Even though it’s April, March Madness is still very much alive. Even in New York City and the famed Madison Square Garden, where March Madness had been absent for 53 years, the excitement of the NCAA Tournament reached heights unseen as the Tri-State’s own, UConn, won two games over the weekend to reach the Final Four.
The National Invitational Tournament, or the N.I.T., has rightfully played second fiddle to the Big Dance and had been Madison Square Garden’s only showcase for postseason college basketball.
There must be something in the New York air.
After a breathtaking couple of days in the Garden for the NCAA Tournament, the N.IT. did its best to follow that act and did not disappoint.
While watching the N.I.T. semifinals in the Garden, you can often feel the let down of excitement and emotion from the non-stop action that the NCAA provided just days before. That was not the case last night.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the palpable energy in the building last night was the return of Larry Brown to the arena that witnessed his biggest professional challenge and failure. Not to mention, the team he brought with him, SMU, was the consensus best team not included in this year’s NCAA Tournament field.
The Mustangs came into last night’s game having won three home games over solid teams and along with their well-coached, deep, defensive-minded team, seemingly brought half of their rabid fan base to New York City as well.
It all paid off.
SMU advanced to the N.I.T. Final by beating a game Clemson squad – who was well represented in the stands, themselves – by a score of 65-59 and to loud chants of S-M-U, S-M-U!
SMU rallied to recover from a 12-point halftime deficit and clinched a hard-fought victory on Markus Kennedy’s (21 points, 9 rebounds) breakaway 3-point play with 7.2 seconds left in the game.
After the game, Larry brown reflected on the win: “…to be in this environment and playing this championship in this special building with our fans so supportive, that was the most special moment we’ve all had I think since we’ve been there.”
Referencing his previous experience in New York, he continued: “I’m not happy with the job I did [with the Knicks], but every time I’ve ever been here, it’s been a highlight for me, and then to have my kids come in here and play in this environment with SMU people here…now we’re a major program playing for a major championship, and that’s neat.”
SMU will play Minnesota in the Final on Thursday. Minnesota advanced by beating Florida State in overtime, 67-64.
And although the Mustangs and Brown were surely wronged by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, it is refreshing to see that it has not had a negative affect on the team or the coaching staff.
And getting to play a final game in the World’s Most Famous Arena, in front of many of your own fans, sure is neat.