While March Madness seemed like a success on both the men’s and women’s fronts, that wasn’t the only postseason basketball left to play for some teams. The NIT (WNIT for the women), or the (Women’s) National Invitation Tournament, is a way for 64 of the next best teams to still have something to fight for after the regular season.
Photo Cred: Wikipedia
Maybe these teams could not receive bids to play for the much more appreciated “March Madness” tournament. That doesn’t disqualify the NIT or the WNIT as anything less, however, at least in my eyes. It’s still a way to possibly win a/another title (other than the conference title) at the end of the season.
Photo Cred: Syracuse.com
While the Sun Belt did not have a selection made in the 2023 WNBA Draft, one player from the WNIT did get picked. Illinois State’s Paige Robinson was picked in the third round (31st overall) by the Dallas Wings. Let’s take a look at how the Sun Belt candidate did in this year’s WNIT.
Texas State Bobcats (TXST)
The Run Before the Tournament
Regular Season Performance
Non-conference Regular Season
Texas State got off to a fast 3-0 start, which included two absolute blowout wins. They beat Howard Payne 104-35 and Arlington Baptist 101-32! These first three games included two home games, but their next two games were away. Regardless, all their non-conference matchups were played in Texas. Losses to UTEP (72-68 in OT) and Texas A&M (67-46) got them to 3-2 just as quickly, but at least the good news was all their next games were at home at Strahan Arena. After another 3-0 run, yet another Texas A&M beat them, this time Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (56-47). TXST would win their last two non-conference games to reach a record of 8-3.
Photo Cred: San Marcos Daily Record
Conference Regular Season
The early start to the conference regular season was middling, with two wins and two losses for the Bobcats. An away loss to Troy (79-63) on the last day of 2022 would be replicated again in a home matchup in February 2023, except this result was closer (84-78). TXST only lost twice in between those two Troy matchups, but they did manage to take revenge on two teams later in the season: South Alabama (45-43 L, 77-57 W) and Louisiana (71-51 L, 58-51 W). After the second loss to Troy, the Bobcats went 6-1 to end the season. Their regular season record had them at 21-8 (13-5 conference). This got them to second place in the Sun Belt.
Photo Cred: Texas State Athletics
The Sun Belt Tournament
The Bobcats were one of three teams [along with James Madison (JMU) and Southern Miss (USM)] that finished with conference records of 13-5. As mentioned before, JMU would win the tiebreaker because they beat TXST and USM. Texas State ended up getting the second seed, as they went 2-1 against JMU and USM. As a result, TXST got a straight bye to the quarterfinals.
Photo Cred: Texas State Athletics Photo Cred: Texas State Athletics
In the quarterfinals, they took down 10th-seeded Appalachian State in a close, nine-point win. They then put the hammer on third-seeded Southern Miss in the semifinal, beating them for a third time this season! However, as with Troy, they could not avenge their loss to JMU, losing the championship 81-51.
In the 2023 Women’s National Invitation Tournament, the Bobcats were going to take on the Stephen F. Austin Ladyjacks (SFA). The game took place on March 16th in Nacogdoches, Texas at William R. Johnson Coliseum.
Photo Cred: KETK.com
After scoring the opening points of the game, TXST fell behind early and did not score again until there was 4:11 left in the first quarter. Before that point, SFA went on a 14-0 run, and then they’d score five more points before the Bobcats would score again. From 2:27-1:10, points would be scored back and forth, not that it would mean much for Texas State. They were down by 15 points at that time (23-8) and had yet to get into double digits. After two Kurstyn Harden free throws, the quarter would end in favor of Stephen F. Austin 25-8.
Photo Cred: Texas State Athletics Photo Cred: SFA Athletics
After a Sierra Dickson layup, two three-pointers would be hit back-to-back (one by each team) to start the second quarter. The score would remain 30-14 from 6:36 to 4:27 after an SFA layup and a TXST free throw. 5:28 to 2:38 would be a low-scoring period of time, with the Bobcats adding four points and the Ladyjacks adding five. TXST would score a layup but SFA would respond with a three on their very next possession. The half would end with four straight scoring drives (two SFA layups, two TXST threes). The Ladyjacks would go into halftime leading 42-26. While it is barely noticeable, the Bobcats actually outscored the Ladyjacks 18-17 in the second quarter.
To start the third quarter, Da’Nasia Hood would hit a three before Tyler McCliment-Call would knock down two free throws. Two layups would be swapped in the next 41 seconds before four point-scoring drives would occur (a jumper and a layup for SFA, two layups for TXST). Then, for the first time in the game, Texas State would go on an 8-0 run to cut the lead to single digits (50-43). To match that, however, the Ladyjacks would go on a 6-0 run themselves. At the 1:29 mark, TXST would score their last points of the third quarter, and SFA would go on another 6-0 run to end the quarter. Stephen F. Austin would lead 62-46.
Photo Cred: Sun Belt Conference Photo Cred: ESPN (Harrison)
The first six buckets of the fourth quarter were all three-pointers, four of them from Texas State. Due to this, the lead was now only a 10-point difference (68-58). A Jordan Harrison layup would be followed by another run of threes (two by TXST) and then six points in 33 seconds combined by each side. With the score now standing at 77-67, SFA would get a layup and a free throw, and TXST would then make a jumper and two free throws.
Photo Cred: Texas State Athletics
Harrison would come in clutch in the next 34 seconds, knocking down four free throws. In between those free throws, Taelour Pruitt would hit a jumper. Pruitt would also hit a three to make it an eight-point game, but there were only 39 total seconds remaining. SFA would get a layup and three free throws, while TXST only managed to hit a three with no time remaining. SFA would move forward with an 89-79 win. At least TXST had some fight within them, as they outscored the Ladyjacks in the second quarter (33-27).
How’d the Players Do?
G Ja’Kayla Bowie had 24 points and G Kennedy Taylor would have one point less than her. F Hood was the only other Bobcat to get double digits (12), and the bench only contributed 10 points total from five players. TXST hit half of their field goals (50%) and was prolific from three (56%). They also only missed one free throw in six attempts for 83.3%. They were only able to out-assist the Ladyjacks 18-17 and that’s all they could do.
Photo Cred: Texas State Athletics (Bowie)
G Harrison led all players with 28 points, and F Aiyana Johnson was the only other starter to hit double figures (16). Johnson would also have nine rebounds on her own. 24 bench points helped buoy SFA up, especially due to C Harden’s 11-point, 5/5 FT game. Stephen F. Austin shot 54.1% from the field and 84.2% on the free throw line but could not knock down many threes (31.8%). Regardless, they had more rebounds (36 to 23), eight more steals (nine to one), and three more blocks (three to zero).
Photo Cred: Stephen F Austin University (Harrison)