A legendary arena, a banner-raising opportunity and a rematch against a bitter rival.
Texas’ successful National Invitation Tournament run has brought the Longhorns many opportunities to capitalize on in New York. The Longhorns have won three straight games for the first time since Jan. 5, but Shaka Smart’s team has greater goals in mind.
“It’s about enjoying the opportunity to go up to New York and try to win two games, and try to win a championship,” Smart said.
In order to claim the program’s first NIT title since 1978, Texas will have to hurdle a difficult obstacle in TCU. The Horned Frogs, along with Final Four-bound Texas Tech, are the only two Big 12 teams to finish undefeated against Texas this year.
TCU claimed a 65-61 win in January. But arguably the greatest disaster of Texas’ season was a 69-56 rout at the hands of TCU on Senior Day. The Longhorns’ defense allowed Horned Frogs shooting guard Desmond Bane to drop 34 points.
This week’s game will tip off over 1,500 miles away from Austin and Fort Worth, but Texas wants more than just the location to change for round three of the rivalry.
“We have to come in with the mindset of being aggressive first,” guard Courtney Ramey said. “Instead of winning by 30, let’s win by 50. Let’s not let off the gas pedal and be aggressive and play free like we played the last three games.”
Texas cannot let the aura in Madison Square Garden shake them. All but one player on the roster — Matt Coleman in a high school all-star game — are unfamiliar with Madison Square Garden, which is frequently pegged as the “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”
For power forward Dylan Osetkowski, stepping on that hardwood holds deep meaning.
“My grandpa, my dad’s dad, was a big college basketball fan out in New York,” Osetkowski said. “He loved the Knicks, loved everything college basketball, so I know he’ll be watching down on me playing in the Garden.”
Every NIT game has the potential to be the last for Osetkowski, as well as shooting guard Kerwin Roach II. The two seniors combined for 29 points and 11 rebounds in the quarterfinal win over Colorado. Earlier in the NIT, Osetkowski notched a career high scoring total against South Dakota State, while Roach flirted with a triple-double versus Xavier. Osetkowski and Roach have been instrumental in anchoring this win streak, and now the seniors are ready to avenge TCU and ultimately bring hardware back to Austin.
“I can make it different by being aggressive, commanding stuff out of my teammates, commanding the best out of coach, myself and just not going 0–3 against them,” Osetkowski said. “We just kind of have the mindset of going to New York and winning the whole thing.”