A Wichita State basketball team with a record number of victories but also with disappointments on its resume — didn't win the Missouri Valley Conference as preseason favorite, didn't reach the NCAA Tournament — completed a redemption-filled run through a national tournament Thursday night.
The Shockers won their first national basketball title, using their 10-deep rotation and clutch shooting late to defeat Alabama 66-57 in the championship game of the National Invitation Tournament at New York's Madison Square Garden.
"That's a group of guys that deserves everything they have coming to them — an NIT championship," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. "They have beaten a lot of good clubs, including Alabama tonight."
WSU will have a celebration at 5 p.m. today in Koch Arena. Fans are asked not to gather at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport as the team will go straight from its chartered plane to a bus bound for the arena.
"I'm so proud of our team and the way we have come back from those disappointments," said senior Graham Hatch, the tourney's Most Outstanding Player. "We have pulled together, and, you know, it's magical. It's just unbelievable."
WSU (29-8) led most of the first half, including 37-34 at halftime. Alabama took a one-point lead with 15:06 to play, but the Shockers scored eight straight points and never led by less than five after that.
Hatch, who made all four of his three-point attempts for 12 points, hit two big three-pointers from the top of the arc to put the game away in the final minutes. The last one gave the Shockers a 64-52 lead with less than four minutes to go.
WSU defeated five opponents over 16 days, including four from power conferences: the Big 12 (Nebraska), Atlantic Coast (Virginia Tech), Pacific-10 (Washington State) and Southeastern (Alabama). The victories, including one over College of Charleston, were by an average of 15.4 points.