The Cowboys (18-15), who are the event's top overall seed, felt they deserved to make the NCAA Tournament after falling to then-No. 7 Texas 61-47 in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament on Thursday.
Coach Mike Boynton Jr. said that playing in the highly competitive Big 12 should have carried more weight when the NCAA Tournament's selection committee decided which teams received at-large berths. Nevada was chosen over Oklahoma State for the final at-large spot.
"I think it's historically good this year. It's not just a good league and not just a league that is better than the others, but it's far and away better than the other leagues," Boynton said. "And with all due respect, because there's really good basketball around the country, but to get eight wins in this conference, three in a row, three sweeps, to play the schedule we played overall is a testament to the character of these guys. I think we certainly (deserved to go to the NCAA Tournament)."
The Cowboys' first-round game against the Youngstown State (24-9), which won the Horizon League regular-season title before falling to Northern Kentucky in the semifinals of the conference tournament, was made more challenging when the bracket was announced.
Oklahoma State had to relinquish its home-court advantage as a higher seed due to staffing conflicts with a wrestling tournament.
The winner faces fourth-seeded Washington State or Eastern Washington, who meet on Tuesday.
The Cowboys, who last played in the NIT in 2018, are led by Bryce Thompson's 11.7 points and 2.6 assists per game, while Kalib Boone averages 11.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Avery Anderson III chipped in 11.1 points per game but was lost to a wrist injury on Feb. 1. Moussa Cisse averages a team-high 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks to go along with 6.5 points per game.
Youngstown State coach Jerrod Calhoun, whose team is making its first NIT appearance, said his Penguins are better than the one that lost 75-63 to eventual tournament champion Northern Kentucky in its last game.
"It's one thing to lose, but to not play your best, I think that's what is tough," Calhoun said. "We're certainly better than what we showed."
The Penguins are led by Dwayne Cohill's 17.8 points and 4.8 assists per game, while Brandon Rush averages 14.0 points. Malek Green and Adrian Nelson each average 13.6 points per game, with Nelson also grabbing a team-high 9.5 rebounds per game.
--Field Level Media
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