OSU To Face Southern Illinois In NIT

Oklahoma State accepted a third consecutive bid to appear in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) on Sunday, and will face Southern Illinois in a first-round game in Carbondale, Ill., on Tuesday night. Tip off for the nationally televised game (ESPN2) is scheduled for 8 p.m. (Central time).

The Cowboys, seeded fifth by the NIT, are 17-15 entering postseason play after going 1-1 in last week's Big 12 postseason tournament. OSU defeated Texas Tech 76-72 on Thursday in a first-round game, but lost to eventual runner-up Texas 66-59 in a quarterfinal contest Friday.

Southern Illinois, 17-14, is a No. 4 seed. The Salukis began the season 6-8 before winning 11 of their final 17 games. They were upset by Northern Iowa 54-49 in a quarterfinal game of the Missouri Valley Conference postseason tournament on March 7, and will have been off for 11 days before facing the Cowboys Tuesday night.

"I think it's a tough draw," said OSU head coach Sean Sutton in a release by the school's media relations department. "Southern Illinois has really been one of the most successful programs in college basketball the last four or five years. We're familiar with them in that we played them in the Ford Center in the second round (NCAA Tournament) in 2005. They had a great team that year and we were fortunate to win that game.

"They're one of the best defensive teams, year in and year out, in college basketball," Sutton continued. "The fact that it's at their place — we've never played there — but just watching it on TV and talking to different coaches and teams that have played there, I know it's a very tough environment. It will be a real challenge."

If the Cowboys defeat the Salukis they will advance to face either Arizona State, a No. 1 seed, or No. 8-seeded Alabama State in a second-round game to be played Thursday, Friday or Saturday.

The NIT semifinals are scheduled Tuesday, April 1, with the championship game to be played Thursday, April 3, at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

The Cowboys will be making their third consecutive appearance in the NIT, and will be looking to advance past the first round for the first time in the past three years. OSU was upset by Marist 67-64 at Gallagher-Iba Arena in a first-round game last season, and the Cowboys suffered a 62-59 loss at Miami (Fla.) to conclude the 2005-06 season.

"Our guys were out here (at Sutton's house) and they seemed excited," said Sutton. "I think they're looking forward to the challenge. There's no question when their (SIU) name popped up, there was instant respect, unlike a year ago, when some of our guys, especially our seniors, weren't that excited about playing in the NIT. I sensed that there was great respect for the name Southern Illinois and the fact that it's on the road, I think our guys understand that its going to be a tough, tough game."

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