NEW YORK – In a championship game of thrills and all-out intensity, Minnesota defeated SMU 65-63 on Thursday night. The victory gave the Gophers the NIT championship and proved to be both a memorable game and a contest ever worthy of the Madison Square Garden location.
The three keys:
- The first was unanimous: poise. With just under six minutes to go, SMU had finished a run to increase their lead to seven points. The Mustangs had the momentum and were seemingly minutes away from a celebration. Minnesota coach Richard Pitino called time out. The Minnesota coach settled his team down. They went out and calmly got the deficit down. The Gophers showed remarkable poise, as they did not try to get back the lead all at once and got the necessary stops those last few minutes.
- Turnovers. The raw numbers saw 14 turnovers, but in tempo free the SMU turnover rate was 24 percent – again, a bit too much. The dreaded turnovers were costly those final minutes, but were damaging through the game. Minnesota enjoyed a 21-9 edge on points off turnovers.
- Austin Hollins. The Minnesota senior guard capped off his career in a sensational manner. Hollins scored a game-high 19 points and hit a huge three-pointer in the final minutes. He was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. “Coach Pitino was great to play for,” Hollins said. “He was very demanding and helped bring my game to another level.”
The game pace was a bit pedestrian – 64 possessions for Minnesota while SMU utilized 62. It was another rare occurrence where the winning team “lost” the efficiency. Actually, both posted a 102 offensive efficiency but carrying the numbers we are given these results:
Coach Pitino and the gophers gladly settle for the win as opposed to the efficiency.
Markus Kennedy, SMU
Nic Moore, SMU
Andre Hollins, Minnesota
DeAndre Mathieu, Minnesota
Most Outstanding Player: Austin Hollins, Minnesota
SMU coach Larry Brown had positive words for the NIT. “I am so thankful the NCAA has done it this way,” Brown said. “Allowing teams that win their conference, if they lose in the playoffs, to come into the tournament. Plus there are some real quality at-large teams.” Brown also noted with a field of 32 that includes those aforementioned automatics from conference titlists, the NIT bid is a coveted achievement these days.
Brown was upset with the turnovers, especially in the stretch. “A few were on three-on-two breaks where we had charges or threw the ball away. It wasn’t all due to defensive pressure.”
Pitino felt if anyone had a case for an NCAA snub it was SMU. Regardless, the Minnesota mentor was thrilled winning the NIT given its history and tradition. “Anytime you win a title, especially year one at Minnesota, you are thrilled about it,” he said. “We have great respect for this tournament and unbelievable respect for SMU. For our guys leaving, walking off as champions and guys coming back understanding what it takes to make that next step is exciting for us.”
Pitino also praised the defense of MOP Austin Hollins. “Austin Hollins was huge,” Pitino said. “He got some back tips and some big time steals. When we needed to get the stops we got them.”
Several of those stops were courtesy of Hollins, who had a game-high four steals.