Georgia, Seton Hall thrilled to still be playing in NIT Final Four

Georgia guard Noah Thomasson (3) attempts a three-point shot against Xavier forward Abou Ousmane (24) during the second half in the first round of the NCAA’s NIT at Stegeman Coliseum, Tuesday, March 19, 2024, in Athens, Ga. Georgia won 78-76 to advance to the second round of the NIT. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Georgia guard Noah Thomasson (3) attempts a three-point shot against Xavier forward Abou Ousmane (24) during the second half in the first round of the NCAA’s NIT at Stegeman Coliseum, Tuesday, March 19, 2024, in Athens, Ga. Georgia won 78-76 to advance to the second round of the NIT. (Jason Getz /

Keep it close. That, above all, will be the Georgia Bulldogs’ objective Tuesday night when they meet Seton Hall in the National Invitation Tournament semifinals at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis (9:30 p.m., ESPN).

In their run to the NIT Final Four – and throughout the season – the Bulldogs have shown they’re a tough team to shake off when the score is tight. With its 79-77 win over Ohio State in the quarterfinals in Columbus, Georgia upped its record to 10-8 in games that were one-possession contests in the final five minutes and 8-5 in matchups that were separated by three or fewer points in the final 30 seconds of regulation.

A couple of losses therein involved teams still playing in that other postseason tournament. Georgia lost to NCAA Final Four participant Alabama after leading by 14 points at halftime in Athens. Likewise, they fell to Tennessee’s Elite Eight team 85-79 after going toe-to-toe to the final horn in the regular season.

The Bulldogs’ ledger is littered with many such close calls. Yet they’re buoyed by the fact that they are one of just eight Division I teams nationwide still playing ball at this point. Indiana State (31-6) and Utah (22-14) are playing in the other NIT semifinal set to tip off at 7 p.m. Alabama, Connecticut, N.C. State and Purdue are still playing in the “Big Dance.”

“There are a couple we all wish we could have back, just like there are every season,” Georgia coach Mike White said on a video conference call from Indianapolis on Monday. “We just weren’t able to beat those teams on those nights. But we’re better now. We’re very capable. We’re going to have fun with this and see where it takes us.”

Seton Hall comes in with a similar attitude. The Pirates (23-12, 13-7 Big East), in their second year under coach Shaheen Holloway, finished fourth in Big East play this season. But they were snubbed by the NCAA Tournament selection committee after suffering a first-round loss to St. John’s in the conference tournament in Madison Square Garden.

Instead of sulking and packing up for the season, the Pirates accepted the NIT’s invitation and, like Georgia, are using the opportunity to prove they might’ve belonged.

“We’re trying to win the whole thing,” Holloway said.

According to published reports, more than a dozen teams declined invites from NIT this year. Among them were Ole Miss from the SEC, Pitt and Syracuse from the ACC as well as Memphis, Oklahoma and Indiana.

Most cited a need to concentrate on roster management in the age of the transfer portal. White and Holloway are managing that as well, they’re just doing so while juggling NIT practices and preparation.

“We’re all multi-tasking,” White said Monday. “We’ve all been on Zooms, on phone calls; we’re balancing the best we can. But we would be remiss if we didn’t pour into these guys who are still playing.”

Georgia has a veteran-laden team, even if though most of them didn’t play together until this season. They’re led in scoring by Noah Thomasson (13 ppg), a Houston native and graduate transfer by way of Niagara University. Their primary post presence is Russel Tchewa, a 7-foot, 280-pound graduate transfer from South Florida who averages 7.6 points and 6.5 rebounds.

Tchewa missed all but five minutes of the Bulldogs’ last two wins over Wake Forest and Ohio State, respectively, due to an illness. He was practicing in Indianapolis over the weekend and attended Monday’s press conference at Hinkle Fieldhouse on the Butler University campus, so would appear good to go now.

“It’s a good thing for us,” Tchewa said of competing in the NIT. “It’s a great time to learn and grow. We get to be with our brothers and practice again for a few more days. We’re never going to have this team together again, so we’re enjoying our time together.”

Said Thomasson: “We want to play together as long as we can. This is my first time playing in the postseason. So, if Coach White says, ‘run through that wall,’ I’m going to meet him on the other side.”

Georgia’s 2023-24 team has been together a long time. Their journey began way back in June when they were first allowed to practice for a two-week exhibition tour in Italy. That will have been nearly 10 months together at the conclusion of this tournament.

Seton Hall claims to be similarly motivated.

“You get a chance to keep improving your individual brand, which all these guys care about,” Holloway said. “But you also get a chance to keep representing the school and keep playing basketball with your brothers that you’ve spent 11 months with, from when first got together, to now. This stuff won’t last forever.”

Holloway has a reputation for working postseason magic. He was at the helm of St. Peter’s program during its historic run from a No. 15 seed to the Elite Eight in 2022.

Thomasson knows Holloway quite well. He was playing at Niagara in the same league as St. Peter’s that year.

“So, I’ve got to get my revenge,” Thomasson said during a radio appearance last week. “We’ve got to beat them in Indianapolis.”

That’ll be a tall task. Seton Hall’s 6-6 point guard Kadary Richmond paces a trio of Pirates scoring at a double-digit pace at 15.6 ppg. Guards Dre Davis (14.8 ppg) and Al-Amir Dawes (14.6) make them a tough perimeter matchup. Inside, Jaden Bediako have started all 35 games for Seton Hall. Bediako leads the Pirates in rebounding (6.9 rpg), blocks (1.69 bpg) and field goal percentage (.614).

“Kedary is very, very talented,” White said. “He has a great tempo, a great pace, to his game. … They’re very hard to score on and equally difficult to defend.”

The Pirates average 73.34 points per game. The Bulldogs’ magic number the last two seasons under White has been holding opponents under 70 points. They’re 28-2 when they do that.

This is Georgia’s third appearance in the NIT Final Four. The last two came in 1982 and 1998 and the Bulldogs lost each time.

Whether the NIT is a launching pad for future success can be argued either way. Georgia made it to the NCAA Final Four in 1983. But in 1999 was right back in the NIT and coach Ron Jirsa was fired following a first-round loss to Clemson.

White said he’ll figure out what it all means later.

“In today’s world, it’s uncertain,” White said Monday. “I’m more focused on helping the guys that are here get better in today’s practice and play better in the next game. We’ll talk about the future of Georgia basketball next week.”