Younger Pitino, Minnesota outlast SMU to win NIT championship

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NEW YORK -- Austin Hollins hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 46.1 seconds left and Minnesota won the National Invitation Tournament championship Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, beating SMU, 65-63, to give the Pitino family its latest postseason tournament title.

Hollins scored 19 points and Andre Hollins had 14 for the Golden Gophers (25-13), who took home the trophy for the third time. They also won the NIT in 1993 and 1998, though the second one was vacated because of an NCAA rules violation involving player eligibility.

"We made some big-time plays," coach Richard Pitino said. "Austin made a big-time 3. We gutted it out. That is a very good team. They're a really good team. They deserve to be in the NCAA tournament. I'm really proud of our guys. I'm so happy for our seniors. They get to walk off this court with a win."

With Pitino's famous father, Rick, sitting near his son's bench, Minnesota made up for a blowout loss to Stanford in the NIT final two years ago and finished with a flourish in its first season under the younger Pitino, 31.

"It was a character win," Richard Pitino said.

After his dad, a Hall of Fame coach at Louisville, was knocked out of the NCAAs last week when the defending champion Cardinals were beaten by rival Kentucky in the Sweet 16, it was left to the younger Pitino to bring home a title in April.

That's exactly what he did, defeating SMU (27-10) and Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown -- old enough to be his grandfather.

"I think it's one of the highlights of my life," Rick Pitino said on the court as his son's team cut down the net. "He's a brilliant young man."

Nic Moore had 17 points and Nick Russell added 15 for the Mustangs, who led by seven with less than six minutes to play.

Hollins was selected the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.

"It feels great," he said. "It's a blessing to be able to finish the season on a win. Few teams get to do that."

Brown, 73, has turned things around in two seasons at SMU, and his latest reclamation project was the favorite going into the NIT after being one of the last teams snubbed by the NCAA tournament.

Minnesota also shrugged off the disappointment of being left out of the 68-team field. 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.


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