West Virginia Wins First NIT Since 1942

Friday, March 30th 2007, 8:20 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ West Virginia defeated Clemson 78-73 to win their first NIT championship in 65 years.

Frank Young scored 24 points, including six 3-pointers, and De'Sean Butler added 20 points to help West Virginia beat Clemson 78-73 in the National Invitation Tournament final Thursday night.

The Mountaineers thought they had a good case to receive an NCAA bid, with a 9-7 mark in the tough Big East and a victory over UCLA. But they didn't make the cut.

``It's been a lot of fun to play in this tournament, and all the emotions just built up as it went along,'' Young said. ``Of course we wanted to be in the NCAA tournament, but to win this tournament, all the joy is still there. We're still happy about finishing our season with a win''

Young averaged over 22 points in the five games of the NIT and was selected as tournament most outstanding player.

``It was gratifying just to see how far I've come as a player,'' Young said. ``The trophy signifies that I did a pretty good job leading this team.''

Young has stepped up in March. He averaged over 20 points in the Big East tournament. The senior followed that up with a stellar NIT to cap his college career.

``That is as impressive a run as I've seen,'' West Virginia coach John Beilein said of his star. ``He's just a believer, he gets on a roll and they just go to him. It just feeds off itself.''

It was the Mountaineers' first NIT title since 1942 when Rudy Baric led West Virginia over Western Kentucky.

West Virginia (27-9) advanced to the championship game by edging Mississippi State 63-62 on Darris Nichols' buzzer-beating 3-pointer on Tuesday. Nichols finished with 13 points and nine assists in the championship game.

With the victory came increased speculation that Beilein could be a prime candidate for the Michigan job. He declined to comment when asked about possible interest in the vacancy.

The Mountaineers, who came from 14 down in the second half in the semifinal, didn't need a late-game rally this time. They used a 12-2 run at the end of the first half to take control of the game. The Tigers (25-11) trailed by double digits for the entire second half before a late 11-0 spurt cut it to the final margin.

K.C. Rivers scored 18 points and Vernon Hamilton added 16 for Clemson, which completed one of the most up-and-down seasons in school history.

``We had our spurts, but that's basketball,'' Rivers said. ``We played our hearts out to get to the championship. This is a life lesson for us.''

The Tigers started 17-0 before losing nine of 11. They turned things around in late February, winning five of six before falling to Florida State in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

Clemson finished tied with the 1986-87 Tigers _ led by Horace Grant _ for most victories in school history. The Tigers were trying to become the third straight team from South Carolina to win the NIT. The University of South Carolina had won the previous two titles.

``We had a good year,'' Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. ``We tied a school record for wins, we advanced to the final of the NIT. It was a successful season.''

The Tigers got to the championship game by holding off Air Force, 68-67, in the other semifinal Tuesday.

West Virginia led 26-24 with 3:56 left in the first half before hitting four straight 3-pointers to take a 38-24 lead. Young, who averaged 13.7 points in the regular season, hit two 3s to start the spurt.

Rivers' layup with 41.9 seconds left ended the 12-0 run. West Virginia was 12-for-20 (60 percent) overall from long range.

``The story of the game is giving up 3s and them making 3s,'' Purnell said.

The Mountaineers last lost to Louisville in double overtime in the Big East tournament _ also at the Garden _ three weeks ago. They beat Delaware State, Massachusetts and North Carolina State to get to New York.

The Tigers fell to 0-2 all-time in the NIT championship. They lost to California in the 1999 title game. Clemson has never won an NIT or NCAA men's basketball title.