Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
Nineteen years ago, John Calipari led Memphis to an NIT championship to kick off the strongest period in school history.
Penny Hardaway will hope history repeats itself.
Boogie Ellis scored 23 points and D.J. Jeffries added 15 points and five blocks off the bench, leading Memphis to a 77-64 win over Mississippi State to take the 2021 NIT.
This is the second NIT title in program history, joining the 2002 Calipari squad. The Tigers would make the NCAA tournament in six of the next seven seasons, thanks in part to the momentum Calipari created with that NIT run.
Memphis has not reached the NCAA tournament since 2014, a streak many expected to end when Hardaway took over before the 2018-19 season. However, James Wiseman’s arrival was abruptly ended last season, and the program hasn’t quite recruited at the level some expected with Hardaway leading the fold.
These Tigers reinvented themselves midway through the season, going 10-3 in their last 13 games of the regular season to narrowly miss the tournament. Two of those three losses came against Houston, a team that reached the Elite Eight over the weekend.
Memphis carried that momentum to North Texas for the NIT, winning three of its four games by double digits. The only close call was a three-point victory over Boise State in the Tigers’ second game.
Memphis ran out to a 13-0 run to start the game against Ben Howland’s Mississippi State team on Sunday, though the Tigers weren’t able to keep that lead. The Bulldogs had evened the score at 33 by the break before Memphis pulled away with a stellar offensive performance in the second half.
Cameron Matthews led the way with 19 points for Mississippi State, which was playing in its first NIT final.