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West Virginia and North Carolina State might have been disappointed to land a berth in the National Invitation Tournament, but now they're playing like they never want it to end.
The Mountaineers (24-9) play host to the Wolfpack (20-15) in the NIT's East Region final at 9 tonight on ESPN from the WVU Coliseum. The winner advances to the NIT final four for the semifinals March 27 at New York's Madison Square Garden.
"Everybody's just fighting to stay alive and keep their season going," Mountaineers coach John Beilein said. "We take pride as a coaching staff and a team to be able to play well in March."
West Virginia will attempt to earn a return trip to New York -- a team goal following the Mountaineers' 82-71 double-overtime loss to Louisville in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals.
The Wolfpack advanced Friday night with a 69-62, second-round victory over Marist. North Carolina State put five players in double figures and shot 52.4 percent, marking its sixth straight shooting performance of more than 50 percent.
Wolfpack 6-foot-9, 235-pound sophomore center Ben McCauley, a Yough graduate from West Newton, made five of his final six shots against Marist to finish with a game-high 19 points. He also grabbed 10 rebounds.
McCauley scored a school-record 2,284 career points for Yough. He averaged 14.7 points in 35 games this season while leading the Wolfpack with a 59.2 percent shooting mark.
West Virginia defeated North Carolina State, 71-60, on a neutral court earlier this season at the Old Spice Classic at Charleston, W.Va.
However, North Carolina State played without senior point guard Engin Atsur, a four-year starter who scored 12 points against Marist.
West Virginia senior forward Sam Young scored 47 points in the opening two NIT games. He scored a career-high 31 points to lead the Mountaineers to a 90-77 second-round victory over Massachusetts this past Thursday at the Coliseum.
Young will set the WVU season record with his next 3-point basket. He's tied with Chris Leonard for most 3-point baskets in a season with 101.
Young hit 17 of 24 shots in the opening two tournament games. He made 8 of 11 from 3-point range while also tossing in an assortment of fade-away jumpers, driving layups and pull-up jumpers from mid range.
"My teammates did a great job of getting me the ball, and I was able to knock them down," Young said.
Massachusetts also knocked them down, scoring 54 points in the second half against a tired West Virginia defense playing on a day's rest.
"Considering we had just played four games in eight days, I'm really pleased, especially for Frank Young," Beilein said.
Originally published by By Rick Starr
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