Gophers fans showed restraint, thankfully, when Minnesota later dispatched Southern Mississippi to reach the semis as well. The ridicule of Clemson is not meant to belittle the benefit of playing well in the second-rate tournament. After all, doing well in the NIT is certainly better than doing poorly in the NIT.
That said: These are the teams who weren't good enough to be granted at-large berths in the NCAA field. While we won't say they aren't among the top 68 teams in college basketball since there are certainly small-conference automatic qualifiers in the bigger tournament that aren't nearly as good as much of the NIT field, the point remains: these are the leftovers. Teams that were average in good leagues or good in average leagues. Storming the court is excessive.
But we would also like to offer a history lesson to any Gophers fan getting a little high and mighty this morning about not following the lead of Clemson's overly enthusiastic bunch: there is precedent for an NIT court-storming at Williams Arena. We know because we were there, and we have a written account to prove it further.
The year was 1998 -- one season after the run to the big-time Final Four. Both seasons have since been wiped off the record books, but not from memories. The Gophers were playing in the quarterfinals of the NIT against Marquette. More than 11,000 fans were inside Williams Arena -- double the number announced last night. Minnesota trailed by four points late before ending the game on a 6-0 run to grab a 73-71 victory.
And yes, after the dramatic victory, a large group of fans caught up in the moment -- including Michael Rand, a U of M student in his first senior year -- stormed the court.
Don't believe this happened? Here is the written Star Tribune account from then-beat writer Jerry Zgoda:
Sam Jacobson's final four points came on two determined drives through the lane that first tied the game and then won it, setting off a celebration that had Sinatra music spreading the news about the trip to New York, New York, and caused many in the audience of 11,842 spectators to storm the floor in a celebration fitting for a Big Ten title.
Thankfully, Twitter didn't exist back then. This incident has largely been forgotten, but we felt the need to set the record straight.