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Originally published March 29, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 29, 2007 at 11:16 PM

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West Virginia beats Clemson to win first NIT title in 65 years

Frank Young and the West Virginia Mountaineers shot past Clemson to their first NIT title in 65 years.

The Associated Press

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NEW YORK – Frank Young and the West Virginia Mountaineers shot past Clemson to their first NIT title in 65 years.

Young scored 24 points, including six 3-pointers, and De’Sean Butler added 20 points to help West Virginia beat Clemson 78-73 in the NIT championship on Thursday night. Young was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.

Young has stepped up in March. He averaged over 20 points in the Big East tournament. The senior followed that up with a stellar NIT to cap off his college career, averaging 22.3 points in five games.

It was the Mountaineers’ first NIT title since 1942 when Rudy Baric led West Virginia over Western Kentucky.

West Virginia (27-9) had advanced to the championship game by edging Mississippi State 63-62 on Darris Nichols’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer. Nichols finished with 13 points and nine assists in the championship game.

The Mountaineers, who came from 14 down in the second half in the semifinal, didn’t need a late-game rally this time, using a 12-2 to run at the end of the first half to take control of the game. The Tigers (25-11) trailed by double digits for the entire second half before a late spurt cut it to five with 3 seconds left.

K.C. Rivers scored 18 points and Vernon Hamilton added 16 for Clemson, which completed one of the most up-and-down seasons in school history. The Tigers started out 17-0 before losing nine of their next 11 games. They turned things around in late February winning five of six before falling to Florida State in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

Clemson finished tied with the 1986-87 team — led by Horace Grant — for most victories in school history. The Tigers were trying to become the third straight team from South Carolina to win the NIT. The University of South Carolina had won the last two titles.

The Tigers advanced to the championship by holding off Air Force, 68-67, in the other semifinal.

West Virginia led 26-24 with 3:56 left in the first half before hitting four straight 3-pointers to take a 38-24 lead. Young, who averaged 13.7 points in the regular season, hit two 3s to start the spurt.

Rivers’ layup with 41.9 seconds left ended the 12-0 run. West Virginia was 8-for-14 (57 percent) from behind the arc in the first half.

The Mountaineers last lost to Louisville in double overtime in the Big East tournament — also at the Garden — three weeks ago. They beat Delaware State, Massachusetts and North Carolina State to get to New York.

The Tigers fell to 0-2 all-time in the NIT championship. They lost to California in the 1999 title game. Clemson still has never won an NIT or NCAA men’s basketball title.

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