SMU punches ticket to New York in NIT thriller

Start spreading the news: SMU is New York-bound.

SMU point guard Nic Moore swished a 3-pointer with 6.5 seconds left Wednesday night to send the Mustangs to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden.

The big shot from the 5-9 Moore gave SMU a 67-65 win over California before another frenzied, sold-out crowd at Moody Coliseum.

The winning basket came on a play called by Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown during a prior huddle. Moore ran to the right corner to receive a pass from teammate Nick Russell and flicked the ball toward the basket in one motion.

"We practice that [play] every day and in game situations," Moore said. "He called the one that I wanted to hear and Nick Russell found me and I hit the shot. Moody magic came out."

SMU fans stormed the court and gave Moore a brief ride on their shoulders. It was the last of three straight home games in the NIT for SMU, which was left out of the bigger NCAA Tournament despite a 23-9 record and wins over four ranked teams.

Now SMU gets to continue to prove it was worthy of the Big Dance by playing on the most famous stage in basketball. The Mustangs face Clemson in the NIT semifinals on Tuesday in New York.

If SMU wins, it will play the Minnesota-Florida State winner in the NIT Final on Thursday.

"It’s big, not only for the fact that we get to go to the Garden, but that we made it this far," SMU guard Nick Russell said. "I guess it was a week ago or so we were all bummed that we didn’t make the Tournament. So the fact that we were able to make it this far, that’s big time for us.

"When we didn’t make the NCAA Tournament, we said that we had to win this tournament to prove them wrong."

Russell, a senior transfer from Kansas State, finessed a reverse layup to fall with 36 seconds left to give SMU a 64-62 lead.

Cal’s Justin Cobbs buried a 3-pointer with 15 seconds to go to give the Bears a two-point lead.

After Moore’s 3-pointer that proved to be the game-winner, Cobbs got another good look from 3-point range with one second left but the shot bounced off the rim.

When SMU was left out of the NCAA Tournament field, the program rallied around the slogan "Finish the Right Way." That now applies to the end of a game as well as the season.

"There’s only 20 teams left playing now, and after this weekend I think there will only be eight left and we’re one of them," said Brown, who is in his second season coaching SMU. "That is so great for our program and for our kids. And again, [previous coach] Matt Doherty left me with some class kids. I think the class of those kids allowed us to move on."

Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire