Ponies Fall Short in Finals
The SMU Mustangs’ thrill-ride of a season came to a close last night with a 65-63 loss in the finals of the NIT at Madison Square Garden. It certainly wasn’t the outcome the Ponies were looking for but to say the future looks bright for Larry Brown’s crew would be an understatement. The Mustangs finished their turnaround season with a 27-10 record, but came up just short against the Golden Gophers (25-13) and their head coach Richard Pitino (son of Louisville coach Rick Pitino who was sitting behind the Minnesota bench throughout).
SMU led by seven with 5:52 left after a 9-1 spurt capped by Markus Kennedy’s dunk off a nice feed from point guard Nic Moore. Minnesota coach Richard Pitino called a timeout, though, and his players quickly responded. DeAndre Mathieu had a three-point play, a steal and an assist to key a 7-0 run that tied the score in just more than a minute. “At the end of the day, we determined the outcome of that game,” Brown said. “We missed free throws, we turned the ball over, and I didn’t see the press affecting our turnovers. We just made some plays that we, unfortunately, we didn’t handle very well.”
With the Mustangs trailing 65-62, the Gophers fouled SMU’s Nick Russell with 3.5 seconds to go. He missed the first free throw and surprisingly made the second eliminating any chance for a rebound and a quick look at a 3-pointer. “The plan was to make the first and miss the second, but it was totally backwards,” Russell said.
“Got to give a lot of credit to Richard and his team,” Brown said. “They were really well prepared. Got down seven and I thought he got their kids to dig in a little bit. We didn’t handle prosperity very well. Had some terrible turnovers in the guts of the game, and I think it turned the game around.”
Both the Mustangs and Gophers rebounded from the disappointment of not being selected to the field of 68 in the NCAA tournament and played well throughout the NIT to make it to the final game. Both schools received a No. 1 seed in the NIT and made the most of it, winning three home games apiece to advance to New York. SMU was looking to tie the school record for wins set during the 1987-88 season, only to come up one short.
“I’m proud of my team,” Brown said. “We picked ourselves up and we competed at the highest level against quality teams and gave ourselves a chance to win.”