This was a big one. No, let me restate that – this was a HUGE one for the SMU Mustangs and their crazed faithful.
The Clemson Tigers sprinted out to an 8-0 lead in Madison Square Garden in the semi finals of the NIT against Larry Brown’s boys. But this SMU squad didn’t back down to an ACC team that went 23-13 and is now headed back to South Carolina. The Ponies (27-9) rallied back from 13 down in the 2nd half, clinching the 65-59 victory on 59% 2nd half shooting vs. the 37% they shot in the first half. So now Larry Brown, already with an NCAA and NBA Championship sitting on his mantle, has the chance to add the NIT to his list of accomplishments. “I love this place,” Brown said. “I wanted our guys to experience what I grew up looking forward to,” Brown said in reference to playing in the Big Apple, his home town.
The Mustangs ratcheted up the defense and intensity in the 2nd half and held Clemson to only 21 2nd half points. “To hold them to 21 after the way they dominated us in the first half was really exciting,” Brown said. “Best half we played all year.”
The incredible turnaround Brown has master-minded in just two years on the Hilltop has been documented here and pretty much any where that covers college hoops, and to be able to direct his kids’ frustration and shockof being left out of the NCAA Tournament into this run of 4 straight wins in the NIT has been masterful. The Mustangs will play the Minnesota Gophers Thursday night for all the NIT marbles. “This is a quality, quality championship,” Brown said. “We haven’t had a lot of nice things happen at SMU for a long, long time, so if we were fortunate enough to win a championship like this, and I was part of it, it would be pretty neat.”
For a team that was understandably disappointed when left off the March Madness dance card, they now have the chance Thursday to point a collective finger at the NCAA selection committee for their oversight. And I wouldn’t blame them at all if it was a big ‘ol middle finger.