NEW YORK CITY- One of the truly intriguing aspects of the NIT is the background stories. It is not just about the teams whose names are inscribed on the championship trophy, not only the leading scorers, MVPs and now MOP (most Outstanding Players) and the like, but also the attraction to our nation’s oldest postseason tournament is rooted in those memories and exploits.
On Thursday evening, Minnesota and SMU tipped it off in the championship game. Before the ball was put in play, we had talk of Larry Brown, the Hall of Fame, well-traveled and successful mentor on the SMU sidelines against his counterpart, a young coach in Richard Pitino with a bright future and a well-known father.
It all came down to the final seconds as Minnesota held on for a 65-63 championship. Pitino, in his initial season at the Big Ten school, had a National Invitation Tournament title.
The game capped off a scintillating week of basketball at the Garden. Last Friday and Sunday, the East regionals were played with each game going to the wire. The NIT semifinals on Tuesday were very much along the same script. The NBA was in on Wednesday for a one-sided game, giving Knick fans delight in victory.
Finally, on Thursday, there was another contest full of drama and very much worthy of being contested on the historic Garden court. The NIT added another chapter to an ongoing history, one captivating fans for decades.
SMU players in deep devotion and thought during the national anthem:
Larry Brown reacts to a play with extreme displeasure:
SMU's Markus Kennedy, an all-tournament choice, looks for an opening in the Minnesota defense:
The NIT championship hardware, waiting under the stands to be brought out and awarded postgame:
NIT champion Minnesota celebrates at center court:
The Pitino family (Rick, Joanne and Richard) celebrates with the NIT championship trophy:
Yours truly and two Minnesota cheerleaders with the championship message in the background: (Photo courtesy of Minnesota cheerleading coach Julie Poeschl)
Richard Pitino and his daughter Ava meet the media: