NEW YORK — The Southern Methodist Mustangs’ resurgent season will be topped off with a chance for the NIT championship.
The Mustangs (27-9) defeated the Clemson Tigers 65-59 in the semifinals Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. SMU faces the winner of the Florida State-Minnesota game in Thursday’s final.
SMU, the top overall seed in the tournament, was 15-17 last season in Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown’s first season at the Dallas school.
The Mustangs are making their deepest run in the NIT Tournament in school history. In 1986 and 2000 they were eliminated by BYU and Southwest Missouri State, respectively, in the first round.
The Tigers (23-13) were making their third bid for an NIT championship. Clemson lost to Cal in the 1999 final and to West Virginia in the 2007 title game.
Forward Markus Kennedy led SMU with 21 points and nine rebounds.
Forward Rod Hall led four Clemson players in double figures with 18 points. Forward K.J. McDaniels scored 11 points and forward Landry Nnoko and guard Damarcus Harrison each dropped in 10 points.
Both teams traded free throws during the last two minutes. After Hall converted two free throws to pull Clemson to 60-59 with nine seconds left, Kennedy broke free for a layup and was fouled. The three-point play allowed SMU a 63-59 cushion.
Clemson went the final 6:40 without a field goal before a dunk by McDaniels with 21 seconds to play pulled it within 58-57. SMU guard Nick Russell drained a one-and-one for a 60-57 cushion with 12.7 seconds remaining.
Hall sank two free throws to bring Clemson to within 56-55 with 1:43 to play, but Kennedy countered with a jumper to move the SMU lead to 58-55 with 1:29 left in the game.
A pair of free throws from Kennedy gave SMU its first lead of the game, 55-53, with 5:09 left in the game and guard Nic Moore’s free throw upped the SMU lead to 56-53 with 3:13 to go. Clemson saw its 13-point lead early in the second half whittle away.
Russell’s 3-pointer tied it at 45 for SMU and after a Clemson basket put it ahead 47-45, forward Sterling Brown’s jumper tied it again at 47 for the Mustangs with 9:54 to go.
Clemson outscored SMU 10-5 in the final 3:43 of the first half to take a 38-26 lead into the break. The Tigers blocked five shots in the first half.
A layup from Kennedy tied the score at 13 before Clemson’s 15-5 run gave the Tigers a 28-18 edge. Hall dropped in six points in the run.
Clemson opened with a 10-2 burst as SMU turned the ball over on its first three possessions.
NOTES: The teams met for the first time since Clemson recorded a 67-51 victory in 1970. … Clemson’s 15 NIT appearances are the most among Atlantic Coast Conference schools. … The Tigers’ lead the NCAA in 3-point field goal percentage defense (.284). … Clemson F K.J. McDaniels is one of only two players in ACC history to record at least 80 blocked shots and 30 3-pointers in the same season. Duke’s Shane Battier is the other. Going into the SMU game, McDaniels had 97 blocks and 41 3-pointers. … McDaniels is the only player in the country leading his team in scoring, rebounding, blocks, steals and 3-pointers. … SMU coach Larry Brown is the only coach to win an NBA championship (Detroit Pistons, 2004) and an NCAA title (Kansas, 1988).
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