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Ohio State men’s basketball earns No. 3 seed in NIT, set to play Akron in first round

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OSU junior forward Marc Loving (2) looks to deliver a pass while Penn State freshman guard Josh Reaves (23) tries to slow him down in a game in the Big Ten tournament on March 10 in Indianapolis. OSU won, 79-75. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo Editor

Despite being left out of the NCAA tournament field after seven consecutive appearances, the Ohio State men’s basketball team will still get a taste of the postseason.

The National Invitational Tournament announced its 32-team bracket Sunday night, in which the Buckeyes (20-13, 11-7) earned a No. 3 seed.

OSU is scheduled to take on sixth-seeded Akron (26-8, 11-5) in the first round Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.

The Zips, who are making their first NIT appearance since 2012, won the Mid-American Conference’s regular-season title. They fell to Buffalo in their the conference championship game Saturday night on a last-second 3-pointer.

OSU played Akron in the first round of the NIT in 1989, defeating the Zips 81-70.

The first three rounds of the NIT, which is, essentially, a consolation prize for schools like OSU, are played at the campus sites of the higher-ranked team.

The semifinals are slated for March 29 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, while the championship game is set for March 31 at 7 p.m.

As the regular season progressed and the young Buckeyes continued to struggle to find their stride, it seemed like they were destined for the NIT.

An upset win over then-No. 8 Iowa on Feb. 28 inflated OSU’s chances to take part in March Madness, but tallying just one win in the Big Ten tournament before being bounced by Michigan State on Friday night sealed the Buckeyes’ fate.

Speaking to the media after his team’s 81-54 loss to the Spartans, coach Thad Matta said because of his team’s youth, he would welcome any opportunity to continue playing additional games.

“We need practice, we need as much as we can get, there’s no question about it,” Matta said Friday night.

This marks just the second time an OSU team coached by Matta will play in the NIT. The first time was in 2008, when the Buckeyes won five games en route to capturing the tournament title.

Matta likened that team to this year’s squad because of the amount of freshmen on each roster. The current Buckeyes have six first-year players, while the 2008 team had five.

“I think it paid dividends for them,” the coach said about the NIT for his 2008 freshmen.

Redshirt sophomore guard Kam Williams said Friday it didn’t matter which tournament his team ended up in, or who they would play.

“We’re just going to prepare for whatever comes next,” he said, later adding, “hopefully we get a better result.”

OSU, which went 3-10 against teams that made the NCAA tournament, is the only team from the Big Ten in the NIT.

As for the NCAA tournament, seven of the Buckeyes’ conference counterparts received berths, highlighted by Michigan State, which is a No. 2 seed.

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