March Madness is still very much alive. 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 NIT., 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 a follow up act and did not disappoint.
While watching the NIT 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 Tuesday 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, Southern Methodist University. The Mustangs found themselves in the top 25 for most of the second half of the season but were snubbed by the tournament committee on Selection Sunday.
SMU 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 NIT Final by beating a pesky 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, nine 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.
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.
Getting to play a final game in the World’s Most Famous Arena, in front of many of your own fans, is sure to cure even the team with the worst case of ‘snub-itis’.