“Got to give a lot of credit to Richard and his team,” Brown said. “They were really well prepared. Got down seven and I thought he got their kids to dig in a little bit. We didn’t handle prosperity very well. Had some terrible turnovers in the guts of the game, and I think it turned the game around.”
Andre Hollins hit three of four free throws in the final 16.3 seconds to help keep Minnesota in front. Mathieu scored all 13 of his points in the second half and finished with seven assists for the Gophers.
Austin Hollins shot 8 for 12, including 3 of 6 from behind the arc, and was selected the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
“Ah, man 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.”
The 73-year-old Brown 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.
The championship game matched two coaches with boyhood roots in the Big Apple. Just like Brown, Pitino’s father once coached the Knicks, leading them to a division title and two playoff appearances from 1987-89.
Brown flopped with the hometown team, going 23-59 as Knicks coach during the 2005-06 season. But that didn’t seem to bother the New York crowd, which gave him a warm hand before the opening tip Thursday.
Brown is in his 39th season as a head coach, nine in college. He won an NCAA crown at Kansas in 1988 and an NBA title with the Detroit Pistons in 2004. He has guided a record eight NBA franchises to the playoffs.
Looking to tie the school record for wins set during the 1987-88 season, SMU was playing in only its third NIT and first national tournament final.
“I’m proud of my team,” Brown said. “We picked ourselves up and we competed at the highest level against quality teams and gave ourselves a chance to win.”