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NIT title up for grabs as Mustangs take on Golden Gophers

New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - A pair of top seeds get together in the World's Most Famous Arena, as the SMU Mustangs take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the title game of the 2014 National Invitation Tournament.

The Golden Gophers are back in the championship round of the tournament for the second time in the last three years, having lost to Stanford in 2012 by a score of 75-51, although that setback came with Tubby Smith as the head coach, and now the leader is Richard Pitino.

Richard, the son of Louisville's Rick Pitino, had some stumbling blocks during the Big Ten campaign, but the team still finished strong enough to warrant an invite to the NIT and so far it has yet to disappoint. Since losing to Wisconsin, a team which is in the NCAA's Final Four, in the conference tournament, the Gophers have gone on to take down High Point, Saint Mary's and Southern Miss, all at Williams Arena. Two nights ago, the squad slipped by Florida State in overtime by a final of 67-64.

While Minnesota is being led into battle by a fresh-faced head coach, the opposite is true for the surprising Mustangs who have the legendary Larry Brown to thank for their success this season. Brown, no stranger to this court after coaching in the NBA beginning in the 1970's and even taking a turn with the New York Knicks (2005-06), has pushed SMU to a total of 27 wins this season, the second-most in program history.

Already the only head coach ever to capture both an NBA title (Detroit, 2004) and an NCAA championship (Kansas, 1988), Brown could distance himself even further from the rest of the coaching community by bringing home the trophy for this event as well. The Mustangs, who are now 4-2 in this tourney all- time, began their run this time around with home wins against UC Irvine (68-54), LSU (80-67) and California (67-65), followed by a 65-59 decision versus Clemson in the semifinals in New York two nights ago.

Officially, this is the 13th appearance for the Gophers in the NIT, excluding showings in both 1996 and 1998 that were vacated by the NCAA. Unfortunately, the latter appearance saw Minnesota defeat Penn State in the title game, 79-72, which means the only existing NIT Championship for the Gophers remains the 62-61 verdict versus Georgetown back in 1993. Overall, the squad is 26-12 in the tourney.

In terms of an all-time series between these two schools, SMU owns a 6-3 advantage, although all nine previous meetings took place in consecutive years between 1954-1963. This will be the first clash on a neutral floor.

After a close call against Cal, the Mustangs found themselves trailing by 13 points in the second half against Clemson in the semifinals, but battled back to eventually survive the six-point outcome. Markus Kennedy, who had a key 3- point play in the meeting, finished with a game-high 21 points and pulled down nine rebounds for the Mustangs, followed by Nic Moore and Nick Russell who accounted for 13 and 10 points, respectively.

In addition to holding the Tigers to just 40.0 percent shooting from the floor, SMU also produced a rebounding advantage of 35-25 in order to give itself a fighting chance down the stretch.

An All-American Athletic Conference First Team selection, Moore is the overall scoring leader for the Mustangs this season with 13.5 ppg, connecting on 71- of-160 (.444) tries from behind the 3-point line, not to mention pacing the group with 174 assists. Moore has made good on 8-of-19 attempts beyond the arc in the tournament, as well as handing out a team-best 20 assists, but his 11.8 ppg falls behind Kennedy who has upped his overall effort on the season (12.4 ppg) to 15.5 ppg, to go along with 7.8 rpg.

Maurice Walker saved the day for the Golden Gophers in the semifinals as he knocked down six free throws in overtime, outscoring Florida State in the frame by himself (6-4), as Minnesota captured the three-point win. Walker, who shot only 1-of-7 from the floor, finished with nine points and six rebounds, while Austin Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu did most of the damage with 17 points apiece. Also having a tough time from the field was Andre Hollins (3-of-10), but he still came up with 13 points for a squad that survived with a mere 38.9 percent success from the floor overall.

Over the course of 37 games, Andre Hollins has been the leader on the scoreboard with an average of 13.6 ppg, although he has been less than reliable with just 37.9 percent accuracy from the field. Austin Hollins checks in with another 12.2 ppg as the pair have combined for 127 triples, nearly half the unit's total of 265. Mathieu, the top passer with 153 assists, pitches in with another 12.0 ppg for a program posting 71.6 ppg.

04/03 10:29:22 ET

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Scoreboard
Local
Final
UVA 27
UNC 28
Final
NCCU 42
SAVST 14
 
7th
SFG 7
KAN 4
 
Final
WISC 52
MD 7
Final
SMU 10
MEM 48
Final
ILL 28
MINN 24
Final
RICE 41
UNT 21
Final
NEB 42
RUTG 24
Final
KST 23
TEX 0
Final
ARK 45
UAB 17
Final
UVA 27
UNC 28
Final
EMICH 17
NILL 28
Final
NAVY 41
SJST 31
Final
BST 35
AKR 21
Final
GASTATE 31
GASO 69
Final
TOL 42
UMASS 35
Final
WMICH 42
OHIO 21
Final
COL 37
UCLA 40
Final
UMO 10
KSU 3
Final
WAKE 17
BC 23
Final
BUF 14
CMICH 20
Final
MARS 35
FATL 16
Final
PITT 28
GT 56
Final
SMISS 20
LATU 31
Final
MSU 35
MICH 11
Final
KENT 31
MSST 45
Final
STAN 38
ORST 14
Final
TCU 82
TTU 27
Final
OKST 10
WVU 34
Final
WKENT 66
ODU 51
Final
UTST 34
UNLV 20
Final
MIZZ 24
VANDY 14
Final
UCF 34
TEMPL 14
Final
WASU 37
ARZ 59
 
Final
CLEM 16
SYR 6
Final
LAMON 18
TXST 22
 
Final
TXSANANTO 0
UTEP 34
 
Final
COLST 45
WYO 31
 
Final
LSU 10
MISS 7
 
Final
TENN 20
ALA 34
 
Final
AUB 42
SCAR 35
 
4th
PSU 14
OSU 17
 
2nd
UTAH 10
USC 7
 
1st
WASH 0
ARST 0
 
11:59pm Tonight
HAW
NEV
Final
SJS 1
BUF 2
Final
TOR 1
BOS 4
Final
NYI 7
DAL 5
Final
PHI 4
DET 2
Final
OTT 2
NJD 3
Final
MON 3
NYR 1
Final
STL 3
CHI 2
Final
NAS 0
PIT 3
Final
MIN 7
TAM 2
3rd
ARI 0
FLA 1
 
2nd
CAL 1
WAS 2
 
Final
NCCU 42
SAVST 14