Walker's free throws key in extra session
The Pitino family still has a chance to win a championship this season.
Substitute center Maurice Walker made six free throws in overtime and Minnesota held off Florida State 67-64 Tuesday night to reach the NIT title game at Madison Square Garden.
Austin Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu scored 17 points apiece for the Golden Gophers (24-13), who squandered a 15-point cushion and overcame Devon Bookert's tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation. They will play Thursday night against fellow No. 1 seed SMU in an NIT final that certainly features a New York flavor on the sidelines.
Minnesota coach Richard Pitino, of course, is the son of former Knicks and current Louisville coach Rick Pitino. He'll go up against Hall of Famer Larry Brown, who was born in Brooklyn and coached the Knicks himself among his many stops before taking over the Mustangs.
"It's so cool to see a guy like him is still so passionate about the game," said the younger Pitino, in his first season with the Gophers. "I've got a lot of respect for him — a lot of respect. He's one of the greatest coaches in this game."
The same could be said of Rick Pitino, knocked out of the NCAA tournament last week when defending champion Louisville was beaten by rival Kentucky in the Sweet 16. On this night, the elder Pitino sat behind his son's bench rooting on Minnesota.
"I don't know if he was calmer than me. I was losing my mind there," Richard Pitino said. "It's hard being a fan. It's difficult. I did it. I went to his Kentucky-Louisville game the other day and it's much harder to be in the stands than on the sidelines, because you feel like you have no control whatsoever. He was probably yelling at me; I was trying to ignore him. It's the one time I'm allowed to ignore him."
Florida State was led by a pair of seniors who played their final college game.
Okaro White had 16 points and 12 rebounds for the top-seeded Seminoles (22-14), who have never won a national postseason tournament. Reserve guard Ian Miller also scored 16, but missed a 3 at the overtime buzzer that would have tied it.
"I've had a great four years on the court and off the court," White said. "Tonight was emotional for me."
Bookert scored 13 points for Florida State, including its last seven in regulation and first two in the extra session. But the Seminoles made only one field goal on eight tries in overtime; Miller's reverse layup that cut it to 66-64 with 6.1 seconds left.
Andre Hollins made one of two free throws after that, and the Gophers held on despite going 0 for 5 from the field in OT.
Walker started in place of top center Elliott Eliason, who injured his ankle in practice last week, and finished with nine points and a team-high six rebounds. Andre Hollins scored 13 for Minnesota, which got all seven of its points in overtime at the foul line, with Walker going 6 for 8.
"You talk about the player of the game, it has to be him," Richard Pitino said.
Florida State's Aaron Thomas managed only three points on 1-of-8 shooting before fouling out with 19.1 seconds left in the second half. Thomas entered as the tournament's leading scorer with an average of 23 points in his first three games.
"I think Aaron was pressing a little bit," coach Leonard Hamilton said. "Youngsters have a tendency to do that."
Florida State trailed by 15 with 6½ minutes left in the opening half before chipping away at the deficit. Thomas tied it at 45 on a free throw with 8:16 remaining in regulation, but Austin Hollins countered with a 3-pointer to put Minnesota back in front.
White hit two free throws, made a basket inside and then gave the Seminoles their first lead at 51-50 on two foul shots with 4:10 to play in the second half.
But the Gophers scored the next two baskets and were up 60-57 with 7.4 seconds left when Malik Smith went to the foul line with a chance to just about seal it. He missed both shots and Bookert dribbled up the court, cut to his right and drained a 3 that tied it at 60 with 0.3 seconds to go.
Officials reviewed the replay to make sure he was behind the arc, and the call was upheld.
"In that situation you just have to let it go and move on and that's what we did," Austin Hollins said. "We didn't want it to end and the guys stuck together in overtime and played as hard as we could, and we really toughed it out."
Minnesota went on runs of 10-0 and 11-0 in the first half and opened a 28-13 lead on a dunk by Austin Hollins with 6:36 remaining. Florida State scored seven of the final nine points to cut its deficit to 30-20 at halftime.
The Gophers went 7 of 14 on 3-pointers to 1 of 9 for the Seminoles and scored 18 points off 11 first-half turnovers by Florida State.
"I was very proud of our guys that we were able to fight back," Hamilton said. "Our guys were a little overanxious. I thought we were pressing a little bit and made some poor decisions."
Minnesota also beat Florida State 71-61 at home in early December during the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.