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Memphis, Mississippi State to tangle in NIT final

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Officially, they are the Memphis Tigers.

Lately, though, they are Memphis State — at least according to their jerseys.

Memphis State was the name of the school when Penny Hardaway was a star player there in the early 1990s. In 1994, the school changed its name to the University of Memphis.

But Hardaway, now in his third season as the Tigers’ coach, has had his players wearing “Memphis State” on their jerseys for the past couple of weeks, and it seems to be working.

On Sunday, when top-seeded Memphis (19-8) is set to play the Mississippi State Bulldogs (18-14) for the NIT championship in Frisco, Texas, the Tigers won’t change a thing.

“I’m very superstitious,” Hardaway said. “We’re winning with them. Why would we get out of them? It’s no disrespect to the University of Memphis. It’s still the same thing to me (Memphis or Memphis State).”

Fourth-seeded Mississippi State is coming off of an impressive 84-62 dismantling of Louisiana Tech in an NIT semifinal on Saturday.

The Bulldogs got a career-high 25 points from Iverson Molinar, and 23 points from D.J. Stewart Jr., who had 19 at halftime when the game was relatively close. In fact, Stewart had 14 of the Bulldogs’ first 17 points on 5-for-5 shooting, including 4-for-4 from 3-point range.

“D.J. got off to a great start,” Bulldogs coach Ben Howland said, “and Iverson took over in the second half.”

Mississippi State is seeking its first NIT title.

Memphis, which won its only NIT title in 2002, demolished Colorado State 90-67 in Saturday’s earlier semifinal.

Landers Nolley II led the Tigers with a career-high 27 points, including 24 in the second half. DeAndre Williams had 21 points, and Lester Quinones added 18 for the Tigers.

Memphis shot 55.7 percent from the floor, including 14 of 27 on 3-pointers (51.9 percent).

“It was our most complete game of the year,” Hardaway said. “For multiple guys to get hot in the same game — I’ve been asking for that all year.”

Mississippi State also shot the ball well on Saturday (54.7 percent overall, 10-for-20 on 3-pointers).

“When we shoot the three like that,” Howland said, “we’re a pretty good team.”

However, Howland is wary of Memphis’ defense.

“They are so long, athletic and disruptive,” Howland said of Memphis. “They trap for 40 minutes. It reminds me of Arkansas in the (coach) Nolan Richardson era — 40 minutes of hell.”

–Field Level Media

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