Magic Ends; Ponies Fall 65-63 in NIT Final

Published: Apr 04, 2014 05:48am EDT
By Michael Owen, Sports Writer for Konsume Sports

Please Note: This article was updated Apr 04, 2014 @ 05:48am EDT


(NEW YORK, NY) – The magical season of the SMU Mustangs came to end as the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers came back from seven points down with less than six minutes left to top Southern Methodist 65-63 at Madison Square Garden Thursday night.

In a game that had 17 lead changes and 14 ties, Minnesota’s Austin Hollins hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 46.1 seconds left to give the Gophers their third NIT Championship. They also won the National Invitation Tournament in 1993 and 1998, though the second one was vacated because of an NCAA rules violation involving player eligibility.

Hollins who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player led all scorers with 19 points and Andre Hollins (no relation) added 14 to guide the Gophers to the tournament clinching victory.

Sophomore Nic Moore led the Mustangs with 17 points while Senior Nick Russell chipped in 15 points in his final college game.  Moore was named to the All-Tournament Team as was Sophomore Markus Kennedy.  Kennedy was held to only 10 points while pulling down 8 rebounds in the championship.

The Gophers spoiled a New York homecoming for SMU’s 73 year old Hall of Fame head coach Larry Brown who was born in Brooklyn, grew up in nearby Long Beach and later in his career coached the New York Knicks.

The game played in front of a partisan SMU crowd was a constant back and forth until the end. After Andre Hollins hit two free throws with five seconds left to give the Gophers a 65-62 edge, SMU took a timeout to draw up one final play in hopes of sending the game into overtime.

Gopher Head Coach Richard Pitino, also with New York roots and son of Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino, had a different idea. Rather than letting the Mustangs take a shot at tying the game at the end of regulation, as had happened in their semifinal game against Florida State after they blew a 15 point lead Tuesday night, Pitino chose to foul the Mustangs to put them on the line for 2 free throws.  After the inbound pass, SMU’s Nick Russell was fouled with 3 seconds left to take the free throws.

Russell, apparently surprised to get fouled said after the game, “To be honest, I had no idea that they were going to foul at all. I didn't know if they would foul me. But they did.”

SMU’s plan was to make the first free throw, miss the second and hope to get the rebound to attempt a game tying shot in the waning moments, however Russell missed the 1st free throw and then to make things worse, when trying to miss the second one, it went in.

“That was the plan, to make the first and miss the second, but it was totally backwards” said Russell.

The Mustangs, despite their ability to get past Minnesota’s defense, had their opportunities but couldn’t hold on to the lead down the stretch due to some inopportune turnovers, which led to 21 Minnesota points.

“We're up seven, and we have three-on-two fastbreak, charge twice, and then we have a backdoor layup for a dunk and turn it over and they converted” Coach Brown said after the game.  “But you know, when you lose a game like this, one team executes late, and another team maybe comes up a little short, I think that's basically it. But you give up 21 points on turnovers, generally a turnover results in a pretty easy basket. It happened in the first half. You know, they were struggling to score, got some layups and then it happened at the most critical time” Brown continued, “At the end of the day, we determined the outcome of that game. We missed free throws, we turned the ball over, and I didn't see the press affecting our turnovers. We just made some plays that we, unfortunately, we didn't handle very well.”

Brown, in his 39th year as a head coach (nine in the NCAA) has turned things around in just two short years at the Hilltop and while this loss was a tough one to take, the future looks bright for the Mustangs as they have only 2 seniors graduating (Russell and Shawn Williams), a newly post season experienced nucleus returning and a banner recruiting class coming in.

The “Moody Magic” was a big factor in the Ponies success this season and it was noted by Brown. “People are not in Dallas; so you don't realize where this program was and how appreciative we are of the people that have come and supported us. I just want to make them proud of us.”

Judging from the recent crowds at Moody and the attention the Ponies have received, it’s a safe bet they are.

College basketball has returned to Dallas.


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