March 25, 1999
NEW YORK – In just an instant, Geno Carlisle led California’s comeback kids to the NIT championship.
Carlisle’s 3-point play with 4.7 seconds left capped yet another Cal comeback and lifted the Golden Bears to a 61-60 victory over Clemson at Madison Square Garden.
“I was having a horrible game up to that point,” Carlisle said. “And then it was just that moment.”
Carlisle drove the lane and two Clemson players converged on him, but he got the ball back and tossed up a one-hander as he was fouled by Tom Wideman. The ball went in, the score was tied, and Carlisle was on the free-throw line.
After a timeout, Carlisle, who hits 77 percent of his free throws, stepped up and swished the decisive free throw in front of a crowd of 10,864.
“I asked God to take the fear and nervousness I had in me away,” said Carlisle, who led Cal with 16 points despite 4-of-18 shooting. “And I was able to knock it down like it was any other free throw.”
After the Tigers’ Terrell McIntyre missed a last-second 15-footer, it was huggy bear time at Madison Square Garden as the Cal players raced to midcourt and began hugging each other.
“That free throw, it was for history, it was for everything we worked for,” Carlisle said.
The 6-foot-3 guard is one of four departing seniors, all of whom enrolled at Cal two years ago even though NCAA sanctions loomed. Last year, the Golden Bears were banned from postseason play and also had two scholarships taken away for misdeeds under former coach Todd Bozeman.
And winning the NIT allowed the Golden Bears (22-11) to go out with a five-game winning streak and a whole bunch of smiling faces. Clemson ended the season at 20-15.
“This is a very special group of seniors and we just put together a good string at the end,” Cal coach Ben Braun said. “These seniors have been together only two years and made the best of that time.”
It’s been 40 years since California won a postseason championship, and it became the 16th team win NCAA and NIT titles. The Golden Bears won the NCAA title in 1959, beating West Virginia by one point, 71-70.
In their run to the title, the Golden Bears rallied from 12 points down to beat Fresno State and from 17 back to beat DePaul.
McIntyre, who led Clemson with 17 points, said it was tough to get a clear shot at the end.
“It’s hard to get a good look going full court with only four seconds, he said. “You don’t really know how much time is going when you’re dribbling so it was a rush shot and it just didn’t go in for us.”
Sean Lampley, the MVP of the tournament, had 15 points and Michael Gill added nine for Cal, while Harold Jamison had 13 points and 14 rebounds for Clemson (20-15).
The Golden Bears trailed by eight points in the first half, and then fell behind 59-56 with 1:18 left after a 3-point shot by McIntyre.
McIntyre, who had four 3-pointers, gave Clemson a 43-40 lead with 13:49 left, but Lampley scored seven straight points and Cal moved ahead 49-43 as the Tigers went cold from the field, failing to score over a seven-minute span.
The Tigers, who outrebounded the Golden Bears 53-33, were looking for their first postseason title in 60 years.
“We knew we were in the championship which is indeed a proud moment, and it should never be disguised as a bad moment,” Clemson first-year coach Larry Shyatt said. “But nonetheless, sure it was difficult.”
By RICHARD ROSENBLATT AP Sports Writer
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