Clemson, West Virginia to meet for NIT championship

Clemson, West Virginia to meet for NIT championship

Clemson, West Virginia preparing to meet for NIT championship
Wed, Mar 28, 2007
By Associated Press

NEW YORK -- West Virginia's John Beilein took a break from feverishly drawing up a game plan for his next opponent in the National Invitation Tournament to catch a few hours of sleep.

As the sun rose Wednesday, so did Beilein and his coaching staff. The one comforting thought was that Beilein figured Clemson's Oliver Purnell was probably doing the same.

''It is the one profession where we love to get more work,'' Beilein said Wednesday during a news conference previewing the NIT finals. ''The Air Force Academy and Mississippi State are not up at 6 a.m. or staying up late like our coaches did working. They would rather be working. They would rather be still playing now.''

Both teams' seasons are still going because of one-point victories at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. West Virginia edged Mississippi State 63-62 on Darris Nichols' buzzer-beating 3-pointer. A few hours later, Clemson held on to beat Air Force 68-67.

The Tigers (25-10) and Mountaineers (26-9) will meet Thursday night for the championship.

''I always say that we have the same amount of time as they do,'' Purnell said. ''I would like to have three days to prepare, but we don't. We will watch some tape with the team, go through the scouting report, walk through some things and play against the zone and that kind of thing. We will come back tonight, meet again, watch tape and go over the scouting report.''

The Tigers are in the NIT semifinals for the second time, and first since losing to California in the 1999 championship. Clemson has never won an NIT or NCAA men's basketball title, so they're motivated to bring a trophy back to South Carolina.

''I think it would be another sign that the program is going in the right direction,'' Purnell said. ''Every year, we have gotten better and better. The university would be proud of (us) in terms of where our basketball program is and I think it will be an excellent springboard moving forward.''

West Virginia is in the NIT championship for the second time - the Mountaineers beat Western Kentucky in 1942.

''These kids have this type of chance,'' Beilein said. ''There are only two teams. If things don't go our way tomorrow night and Clemson is the winner, they will know at that time they gave it their best.''

West Virginia has won four straight since losing to Louisville in double overtime in the Big East tournament - also at the Garden - three weeks ago. After beating Delaware State, Massachusetts and North Carolina State to get to New York, the Mountaineers were pushed to the limit by Mississippi State.

They fell behind by 14 points early in the second half, but gradually chipped away at the deficit before taking a 60-59 lead when Jamie Smalligan made two of his three free throws with 53 seconds left.

With Mississippi State leading 62-60, Nichols missed a 3 with 5 seconds remaining, but the Mountaineers got the rebound and called timeout with 2.1 to go. Beilein called a non-conventional inbound play that he borrowed from former Nebraska coach Danny Nee, having Alex Ruoff pass the ball across the basket from the left side of the court to Nichols, who went to the corner and buried the winning shot.

''I knew we needed a 3 to win it, so I just stepped back into it,'' Nichols said after the game.

''They will be very busy (Wednesday) making sure they see what happened last night as far as how well they played at times,'' Beilein said.

It won't be all business for the Mountaineers, though. Beilein said his players will get some time to tour Manhattan, including a trip to ground zero.

''I am just excited to go,'' senior forward Frank Young said. ''I am a history major, and it is a big part of the history of this country.''

Clemson also has won four straight since losing to Florida State in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, beating East Tennessee State, Mississippi and Syracuse before hanging on against Air Force.

The Tigers led by 13 early in the second half, but the Falcons responded with a 25-12 run to tie it at 51 with 6:56 remaining. Clemson was able to get the lead back up to 10 at 65-55 on David Potter's 3-pointer with 2:12 left, but Air Force still wasn't finished.

Trailing 67-60 with 33 seconds left, the Falcons' Matt McCraw made two foul shots. After Clemson made a free throw, Nick Welch had a layup for Air Force with 4.2 seconds left. Dan Nwaelele then made a steal and hit a 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds left to make it 68-67. The Tigers were able to dribble out the remaining time.

''I am sure he will bring out part of his game that he didn't use last night after watching what we did or watching what Air Force did to us,'' Purnell said of Beilein. ''It is up to us to adjust and go from there.''

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Re: Clemson, West Virginia to meet for NIT championship

West Virginia battles Clemson for NIT title
March 29th, 2007

New York, NY (Sports Network) - The 70th-annual NIT comes to a close this evening in New York City, as the West Virginia Mountaineers and the Clemson Tigers battle one another on the floor of Madison Square Garden for the tournament title.

The Tigers are seeking their first postseason crown of any kind, having never won the NIT or NCAA Tournament. The only postseason crown in Clemson history came in the Southern Conference Tournament in 1939. It certainly didn't come easy for Oliver Purnell's squad, which tied a school record for wins in a season this year, grabbing its 25th victory on Tuesday with a 68-67 decision over Air Force in the NIT Semifinals. Prior to that, Clemson navigated the tournament field with wins over East Tennessee State (64-57), Ole Miss (89-68) and Syracuse (74-70).

The Mountaineers have a bit more postseason seasoning, as this will be their third all-time appearance in a postseason final. The team won the 1942 NIT and was runner-up in the 1959 NCAA Tournament. John Beilein's team is a solid 26-9 on the season and has found its way to the title game with victories over Delaware State (74-50), UMass (90-77), NC State (71-66) and finally Mississippi State (63-62) on Tuesday. The win over the Bulldogs this week marked Beilein's 550th in his career.

These two teams are meeting for just the fourth time, with West Virginia holding a 2-1 series edge. The last meeting came in the 1994 NIT, with Clemson taking a 96-79 decision in Morgantown.

It has been a team-effort for the Mountaineers in this event, but no one player has meant more to his team in the tournament than senior Frank Young. The 6-5 veteran is averaging a gaudy 22.3 ppg in four tourney games and is shooting 63 percent from the field, including 64 percent from beyond the arc. On the season, Young leads the team in scoring at 15.1 ppg. Young has set the school-record for three-pointers in a season (111) and is shooting .422 from long range on the year. Three others follow in double digits, with Darris Nichols (10.8 ppg), Joe Alexander (10.6 ppg) and Alex Ruoff (10.4 ppg) all making their presence felt in the scoring column. Da'Sean Butler is a valuable asset off the bench as well, at 9.8 ppg.

In the one-point victory over Mississippi State on Tuesday, it was Nichols who was the hero as he hit a three-pointer as time expired to lift the Mountaineers to the come-from-behind win and into the title game. WVU shot just .365 from the floor, but placed three players in double figures, starting with Nichols (17 points). Young had another solid outing, going 6- of-13 from the floor and 4-of-8 from three-point range, to finish with 16 points. Ruoff chipped in with 10 points to go with five rebounds and four assists.

The Tigers had a similar Final Four appearance, as they held off a tough Air Force squad, posting a 68-67 victory and advancing to tonight's championship game. Clemson did find a way to fight through Air Force's vaunted defense, shooting .591 from the floor, including a sizzling .684 in the second half (13-of-19). K.C. Rivers led four starters in double figures with 19 points. Rivers was 6-of-11 from the floor in the game, including 5-of-10 from behind the arc. Center Trevor Booker added 13 points, while Vernon Hamilton and Cliff Hammonds chipped in with 11 points apiece. Hamilton just missed a double-double, as he doled out nine assists.

It has been a lot of the same for Clemson offensively this season, as all five starters are averaging double figures. Rivers has come off the bench for the most part this year, but that hasn't stopped him from pacing the team in scoring (13.9 ppg). Rivers is shooting .463 from the floor, including .401 from behind the arc (85-of-212). James Mays (12.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and Booker (10.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg) are a formidable duo in the frontcourt, while Hamilton (12.2 ppg) and Hammonds (10.3 ppg) join Rivers to provide adequate perimeter balance.

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