New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - With a spot in the championship game of the 2014 National Invitation Tournament on the line, the SMU Mustangs clash with the Clemson Tigers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.
Nic Moore was the hero for SMU in its last tilt, as his 3-pointer with seven seconds remaining was the difference in a 67-65 win over California. The Mustangs were considered one of the bigger snubs of this year's NCAA Tournament selection, but they have still enjoyed a stellar season. They are 26-9 overall, which includes wins in the first three rounds of this event.
Clemson found a way to pull out a 73-68 victory over Belmont in its previous contest, pushing its way to the NIT semifinals for the third time in program history. The Tigers collected wins over Georgia State (78-66) and Illinois (50-49) in the first two rounds, and are currently sporting a 23-12 record on the season.
In the only previous meeting between these two squads, Clemson claimed a 67-51 victory during the 1970 Music City Classic in Nashville. The winner this time will advance to the NIT title tilt to play either Florida State or Minnesota.
Damarcus Harrison and K.J. McDaniels each scored 16 points to pace Clemson in its win over Belmont in the quarterfinals. The Tigers were fairly consistent in the contest, shooting right near 48 percent from the floor in both halves, while hitting five 3-pointers in each period as well.
Clemson is a team that likes to slow the pace and feed off its strong defensive play. The Tigers are fourth in the country in scoring defense (58.2 ppg) and 14th in opponent field goal percentage (.393). They don't couple such stifling defensive efforts with a potent offensive attack, however, netting only 63.7 ppg on 42.4 percent shooting. McDaniels (17.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 2.8 rpg) is without question the most important and reliable player on the roster for Clemson, as he leads the team in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots. In fact, no other player is scoring in double figures, with Rod Hall (9.4 ppg) the next best option.
There were three lead changes in the final minute alone between SMU and California. First, Nick Russell broke a 62-62 tie with a layup with 36 seconds left to play, giving SMU a 64-62 edge. Justin Cobbs answered at the other end with a 3-pointer for the Golden Bears, but it was Moore's triple that turned out to be the game-winner.
SMU is very similar to Clemson in its approach. Under Larry Brown's tutelage the Mustangs have transformed into one of the most difficult teams to score on in the country. They allow only 62.3 ppg on the sixth-lowest opponent field goal percentage (.382). Brown has also molded his squad into an efficient, if not overly productive offensive unit, as the Mustangs rank in the top-20 in field goal percentage (.484). Moore (13.5 ppg, 4.9 apg) and Russell (9.8 ppg, 3.3 apg) form a solid duo in the backcourt, and Markus Kennedy (12.2 ppg, 7 rpg) is the anchor in the paint.