Clemson, Florida State bounced from NIT semifinals
Markus Kennedy had 21 points, including the clinching three-point play, and SMU rallied from 13 down in the second half to beat Clemson 65-59 Tuesday night, sending Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown into the NIT championship game in his old backyard.
Nic Moore added 13 points and Nick Russell scored 10 for the Mustangs (27-9), who will play Minnesota or Florida State for the title Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. Brown, the only head coach to win both an NCAA and NBA championship, now has a chance to add the National Invitation Tournament to his extensive resume.
The 73-year-old Brown, who was born in Brooklyn and grew up in nearby Long Beach, is old enough to remember when the NIT was the premier college basketball tournament around. He has directed quite a turnaround in two seasons at SMU, snubbed by the NCAA tourney on Selection Sunday.
By all accounts, the Mustangs were one of the final schools left out of the 68-team field. But they were given a No. 1 seed in the NIT and have taken full advantage of it with four straight wins — three on their home court.
Rod Hall had 18 points and five assists for third-seeded Clemson (23-13), still looking for its first NIT crown after three trips to the semifinals. High-flying forward K.J. McDaniels, the team's leading scorer at 17.2 points per game, was held to 11 on 4-of-11 shooting.
Landry Nnoko and Damarcus Harrison each scored 10 for the Tigers.
Harrison had all his points on perfect shooting in the first half, when Clemson shot 56 percent — including 6 of 9 from 3-point range. But he went 0 for 5 and Hall was 1 of 6 as the Mustangs buckled down after halftime, harassing the Tigers into 6-for-25 shooting (24 percent).
Meanwhile, the Mustangs went 13 for 22 (59 percent) in the second half after shooting 37 percent in the first 20 minutes. Kennedy shot 8 for 13 overall and finished with nine rebounds, four fouls and three steals in 24 minutes.
SMU trailed 41-28 early in the second half but erased the deficit with a 17-4 spurt as chants of "SMU! SMU!" rang out in the Garden. Russell's 3-pointer tied it at 45 with 10:30 left, and a jumper 5 minutes later by Moore tied it again at 53.
Kennedy made a steal at midcourt and was fouled driving to the basket. He made two free throws with 5:09 remaining to give SMU its first lead, 55-53.
After a free throw by Moore, two foul shots from Hall trimmed the deficit to 56-55. Kennedy then scored in the lane before McDaniels dunked on a baseline drive to make it 58-57 with 21 seconds to go.
Russell drained two free throws before Hall did the same, leaving the score 60-59 with 8.2 seconds left. That's when Kennedy got free behind the Clemson press and took in a home run pass from Moore for a layup. Kennedy was fouled on the play and hit the free throw to make it 63-59 with 7.2 seconds left.
Minnesota beats Florida State 67-64 in OT
The Pitino family still has a chance to win a championship this season.
Substitute center Maurice Walker made six free throws in overtime and Minnesota held off Florida State 67-64 Tuesday night to reach the NIT title game at Madison Square Garden.
Austin Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu scored 17 points apiece for the Golden Gophers (24-13), who squandered a 15-point cushion and overcame Devon Bookert's tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation. They will play Thursday night against fellow No. 1 seed SMU in an NIT final that certainly features a New York flavor on the sidelines.
Minnesota coach Richard Pitino, of course, is the son of former Knicks and current Louisville coach Rick Pitino. He'll go up against Hall of Famer Larry Brown, who was born in Brooklyn and coached the Knicks himself among his many stops before taking over the Mustangs.
"It's so cool to see a guy like him is still so passionate about the game," said the younger Pitino, in his first season with the Gophers. "I've got a lot of respect for him — a lot of respect. He's one of the greatest coaches in this game."
The same could be said of Rick Pitino, knocked out of the NCAA tournament last week when defending champion Louisville was beaten by rival Kentucky in the Sweet 16. On this night, the elder Pitino sat behind his son's bench rooting on Minnesota.
"I don't know if he was calmer than me. I was losing my mind there," Richard Pitino said. "It's hard being a fan. It's difficult. I did it. I went to his Kentucky-Louisville game the other day and it's much harder to be in the stands than on the sidelines, because you feel like you have no control whatsoever. He was probably yelling at me; I was trying to ignore him. It's the one time I'm allowed to ignore him."
Florida State was led by a pair of seniors who played their final college game.
Okaro White had 16 points and 12 rebounds for the top-seeded Seminoles (22-14), who have never won a national postseason tournament. Reserve guard Ian Miller also scored 16, but missed a 3 at the overtime buzzer that would have tied it.