NEW YORK – Throughout an illustrious coaching career spanning several decades through the colleges and NBA, Larry Brown has diagrammed many a play and defense. He’s also very active on the clinic circuit. When his SMU team trailed Clemson at the half by 12 in the NIT semis, Brown’s message was simple. No grease board was necessary.
“I just told them,” Brown said, “we were not matching the intensity and energy of Clemson. We had to do that to get back in it.”
The second half saw a complete reversal of fortune as SMU pulled out a 65-59 victory. The Mustangs advance to the NIT title game against Minnesota.
“Coach Brown came into the locker room to talk to us (at halftime),” SMU’s Markus Kennedy said. ”But we knew what we had to do. We knew we could do better. We had to get offensive rebounds and stops.”
The simple combination of eliminating turnovers and defending more aggressively were the vital keys for SMU. “We didn’t play well the first half,” Brown said. “But the second half was our best half of the season.”
Those initial twenty minutes saw SMU allow a 56 percent field goal percentage, including 6 of 9 (67%) from downtown. After the break, the numbers were 24 percent and 18 percent from three. The Tigers were limited to 21 second-half points, scoring just two field goals the final eight minutes.
“We didn’t get off to a good start the second half,” said Clemson coach Brad Brownell. “Unfortunately we saw the second side of our team. We struggle offensively at times and unfortunately did not shoot the ball well the second half.”
SMU, following a turnover-plagued first half, had only four in the second finishing with 13. They “won” the offensive rebounding battle Kennedy alluded to 13-9. In tempo free metrics, their OREB percentage was a resounding 45-29 percent advantage. The Tigers also enjoyed a huge 30-18 edge in points in the paint.
Kennedy, a 6-9 sophomore forward, led the way with 21 points and nine rebounds, both game highs. Junior guard Rod Hall paced the Tigers with 18 points.
SMU faces Minnesota, a 67-64 winner over Florida State in the other semifinal. The Gophers, coached by Richard Pitino, with dad Rick watching behind the Minnesota bench, used their three-point shooting to build a lead early before holding on for the win.
“To be in this environment,” Brown said, “playing for the championship with our fans so supportive is probably the most special moment we’ve had since we have been here.”
One SMU assistant taking a halftime break while scouting Minnesota-Florida State said, “When Louisville was a four seed, I felt we would not get in (the NCAA tournament). Our league (American Athletic Conference) was a bit overlooked, but UCONN has a shot to go to the title game and we are in the NIT final. I think it worked out particularly well for us (SMU).”