Lost in all the hoopla and hype surrounding the Final Four and the NCAA Tournament is the fact that the matchup is set for the NIT championship game on Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
For the top-seed SMU Mustangs, they had to rally back from a 12-point halftime deficit against a talented Clemson Tigers club while the Minnesota Golden Gophers withstood a rally from the Florida State Seminoles to win in overtime, setting up the title game matchup.
In the first semifinal, the Mustangs found themselves trailing by 12 at the half, 38-26, but ratcheted up their defense over the final 20 minutes, limiting the Tigers to just 21 points. SMU head coach Larry Brown, who has already won an NBA (Detroit, 2004) and NCAA (Kansas, 1988) title, will try to complete the trifecta with an NIT title on Thursday night.
Marcus Kennedy scored 21 points, including the clinching three-point play with under 10 seconds remaining to give the Mustangs a four-point lead.
Kennedy was one rebound short of a double-double.
Rod Hall led the third-seeded Tigers with 18 points and five assists while leading scorer K.J. Daniels was held to just 11 points, four below his season average, on 4-of-11 shooting.
In the second semifinal, the top-seeded Golden Gophers came out on fire, racing out to a 15-4 lead just four minutes into the game. They extended the lead over the top-seed Seminoles to as many as 15 thanks to a four minute scoring drought for Leonard Hamilton‘s club but only led by 10 at the half due to a 6-minute drought of their own.
The Noles clawed back in the second half, taking their first lead of the game, 51-50, at the 4:10 mark thanks to a pair of free throws by Okaro White, who led them with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Devon Bookert sent the game to overtime thanks to a game-tying three at the end of regulation but Minnesota backup center Maurice Walker made six free throws in the extra session to push the Gophers to the title game as they held on for a 67-64 win.
The championship game can be seen Thursday at 7 pm ET on ESPN.