NEW YORK — With his famous father sitting behind him in the Madison Square Garden stands, 32-year-old Minnesota coach Richard Pitino guided the Golden Gophers to a 67-64 overtime win over Florida State in the semifinals of the NIT on Tuesday.
Minnesota (24-13) faces SMU in Thursday’s final. The Mustangs (27-9) defeated Clemson 65-59 in the other semifinal.
Guards Austin Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu scored 17 points apiece, helping Golden Gophers establish a school single-season record for wins.
Florida State (22-14) received 16 points apiece from forward Okaro White and guard Ian Miller.
Rick Pitino, whose Louisville team lost in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 to Kentucky, sat calmly until late in regulation. He saw his son take the Golden Gophers to their second NIT final in three years. Minnesota lost to Stanford 75-51 in the 2012 championship game.
The Golden Gophers won the NIT in 1993 and 1998, but the latter title was vacated due to a violation of NCAA rules.
“I don’t know how calm he (Rick Pitino) was, but I was losing my mind,” Richard Pitino said of the last portion of regulation. “It’s much harder to be a fan in the stands. He was probably yelling at me, but I was trying to ignore him. It’s the one time I’m allowed to ignore him.”
Free-throw shooting won it for Minnesota in overtime, as the teams shot a combined 1-for-11 from the floor. Gophers forward Maurice Walker scored six of his team’s seven points in OT from the line.
“(Walker) has hit big free throws for us all year,” Pitino said. “We found a way to win when everyone thought we were probably going to lose. This was a character win.”
Florida State guard Devon Bookert’s contested 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds left sent the game into overtime at 60-60. Bookert scored the Seminoles’ last seven points in regulation in the final 21 seconds.
The Golden Gophers had a golden opportunity to put the game away, but reserve guard Malik Smith missed two free throws with 0.8 seconds left and Minnesota clinging to a 60-57 lead.
The Seminoles took their first lead of the game, 51-50, on two fouls shots by White with 4:10 to play. That lead lasted only 25 seconds, as it was erased on layups by Gophers forward Oto Osenieks and guard Andre Hollins, giving Minnesota a 54-51 lead with 3:17 to play.
“Give Minnesota credit, they found a way to win,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said, “but I was proud of our guys, the way they were able to fight back.
“But it’s hard to play in a championship tournament and make 18 turnovers against a team that’s playing well.”
The Gophers scored 23 points off of the Seminoles’ giveaways.
Minnesota led the entire first half and took a 30-20 advantage into halftime. The Gophers’ biggest lead was 28-13 after an 11-0 run.
Minnesota took advantage of 11 first-half Florida State turnovers, scoring 18 points off the mistakes.
Seminoles sophomore guard Aaron Thomas, who was averaging 23 points in the NIT, was held to three points in the semifinal before fouling out with 19 seconds to play. He made just one of eight shots from the floor and committed five turnovers.
“Aaron was pressing a little bit,” Hamilton said. “Sometimes they want something so bad and they become emotionally excited. Tonight was one of those nights where I thought he was pressing.
“He’s given us so many great moments. I have no doubt he will bounce back. Sometimes these situations help you bounce back as a basketball player, and I’m sure that will be the case with him.”
NOTES: Florida State G Aaron Thomas scored in double figures in 16 consecutive games before he was limited to three points Tuesday. … Minnesota leads the series with Florida State 6-4. … Florida State is the third-winningest team in the Atlantic Coast Conference over the past nine seasons, and it made its ninth consecutive postseason appearance. … Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton is the man ever to be selected Coach of the Year in both the ACC (2009 and 2012) and the Big East (1995 and 1999 with Miami). … Minnesota followed its last two NIT trips with berths in the NCAA Tournament in the next
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