CollegeInsider.com Tournament Seimfinals Recap - Santa Clara 72, Southern Methodist 55

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Matt Doherty’s alma mater might have won on Friday night in the world of college basketball, but the team he coached didn’t fare quite so well.

Yes, Doherty’s North Carolina Tar Heels advanced in the NCAA Tournament last night, but the former standout on Carolina’s 1982 national championship team had to tend to his job. Doherty was coaching the SMU Mustangs against the Santa Clara Broncos in the semifinals of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament at Moody Coliseum in Dallas. SMU gained a home-court date for a chance to reach a championship game in a second-tier postseason tournament. Yes, the CIT doesn’t own any stature or cachet, but the mere chance to play in any kind of title game offered the Ponies a pathway to improved player development for the 2011-2012 season.

After 40 minutes of play, however, SMU’s offseason began one game earlier than it hoped. It’s Santa Clara which will contest the CIT title against the winner of today’s other semifinal between Iona and East Tennessee State.

Teams live by the three-point shot and they die by the three-point shot. Doherty’s SMU crew clearly reinforced both truisms before ultimately emphasizing the latter one. The Mustangs bolted to a 26-17 lead in the first 14 minutes by hitting four threes in addition to five layups and four foul shots. SMU either went big from the 3-point line or took the ball right to the tin; Doherty’s kids clearly showed no preference for the mid-range game. This wound up hurting the home team in a game with lots of wild mood swings at Moody.

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After SMU scored 26 points in the first 14 minutes, the Mustangs tallied just four points the rest of the first half and added a meager five points in the first 5:17 of the second half. SMU’s drought, featuring stacks of missed threes, enabled Santa Clara, coached by Kerry Keating, to grab a 42-35 lead. Yet, just when SMU seemed to be tanking, the Ponies mounted up and scored 13 points in roughly three minutes. Three treys, two by Robert Nyakundi, propelled the kids from Conference USA to a 48-44 lead with 11:40 to go. That edge became a 50-46 lead with 10:44 left. The game seemed to be headed for a nail-biting finish, but that’s when the bottom fell out for Doherty’s dreams of a CIT title.

In the final 10:44, SMU hit one field goal. That’s right – one. The Mustangs died a slow death, hoisting 10 threes and making only one. Had SMU tried more than six twos in the final minutes, it might have had more success; then again, the Ponies missed all six of their twos as they crumbled in the face of the Broncos’ patient defense.

Santa Clara was clearly the steadier team and, as it turned out, the smarter one. The Broncos proudly carried the banner for the West Coast Conference by outscoring SMU 26-5 in the final nine minutes and 11 seconds of this game. What made Santa Clara’s finishing kick so impressive is that four of five starters all scored during the surge. Kevin Foster threw down 35 points for the Broncos on Friday, but teammates Ben Dowdell, Troy Payne, and Marc Trasolini all joined the effort in the final nine minutes of unmistakable domination.

The tip time for the CIT championship game has yet to be announced. Rest assured, though: Santa Clara will go wherever it needs to. The Broncos have gone the distance in this four-round tournament bracket.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer




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