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Mar 18, 2024 4:29 pm

Xavier, Georgia happy for opportunity to play in NIT

Noah Thomasson

When Georgia welcomes Xavier to Athens, Ga., for an opening-round matchup on Tuesday night in the National Invitation Tournament, Bulldogs coach Mike White believes the opposing teams will view the game with similar perspectives.

“It gives young people more opportunity for development,” White said. “Whether it’s our fifth-year (seniors) or our freshmen or anyone in between. They’ve earned the right to play (in the) postseason, and no one can ever take that away from them.”

Georgia (17-16) makes its first NIT appearance since 2017, which also marked the program’s most recent postseason trip. The Bulldogs have endured a late-season slump, dropping five of their last seven games — including their exit from the second round of the Southeastern Conference tournament with an 85-80 loss to Florida.

However, defeats of a 20-win Ole Miss team on March 5 and Missouri in the first round of the SEC tournament on March 13 gave Georgia its highest win total since going 18-15 in 2017-18.

For senior guard and Georgia leading scorer Noah Thomasson (12.8 points per game), the chance to build on that mark while continuing his career provides motivation in the NIT.

“The opportunity to play again with this group is something you couldn’t be more blessed with,” he said. “And the chance to get to host is another opportunity we can’t wait for.”

Xavier (16-17) makes its return to the NIT after winning the tournament in 2022. The Musketeers edged Georgia’s SEC counterpart Texas A&M 73-72 in the final round that season for Xavier’s first postseason title since winning the 1958 NIT.

The Musketeers’ roster heading into this NIT is much different from the 2022 championship lineup; no one who played for Xavier in the title round two years ago will suit up this time around.

Headlining the 2024 Musketeers is guard Quincy Olivari (19.4 ppg), who joined Xavier from Rice last offseason.

The Musketeers head into the NIT at 3-7 over their last 10 games against a tough Big East Conference schedule. They closed with an 87-60 loss at reigning national champion UConn at the Big East tournament last Thursday.

“I’m very, very proud of our team. We’ve overcome a lot from the month of July or August this past summer until now,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said following that loss. “I don’t think I’ve ever coached a team that’s gone through more adversity when it comes to season-ending injuries and different players not being available.”

–Field Level Media

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