NEW YORK - West Virginia's John Beilein took a break from feverishly drawing up a game plan for his next opponent in the National Invitation Tournament to catch a few hours of sleep.

As the sun rose yesterday, so did Beilein and his coaching staff. The one comforting thought was that Beilein figured Clemson's Oliver Purnell was probably doing the same.

"It is the one profession where we love to get more work," Beilein said yesterday. "The Air Force Academy and Mississippi State are not up at 6 a.m. or staying up late like our coaches did working. They would rather be working. They would rather be still playing now."

Both teams' seasons are still going because of one-point victories at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. West Virginia edged Mississippi State, 63-62, on Darris Nichols' buzzer-beating three-pointer. A few hours later, Clemson held on to beat Air Force, 68-67.

The Tigers (25-10) and Mountaineers (26-9) will meet tonight for the championship.

"I always say that we have the same amount of time as they do," Purnell said. "I would like to have three days to prepare, but we don't. We will watch some tape with the team, go through the scouting report, walk through some things, and play against the zone and that kind of thing. We will come back tonight, meet again, watch tape, and go over the scouting report."

The Tigers reached the NIT final in 1999 but lost to California. Clemson has never won an NIT or NCAA men's basketball title.

"I think it would be another sign that the program is going in the right direction," Purnell said. "Every year, we have gotten better and better. The university would be proud of [us] in terms of where our basketball program is, and I think it will be an excellent springboard moving forward."

West Virginia is in the NIT championship for the second time - the Mountaineers beat Western Kentucky in 1942.

"These kids have this type of chance," Beilein said. "There are only two teams. If things don't go our way [tonight] and Clemson is the winner, they will know at that time they gave it their best."

West Virginia has won four straight since losing to Louisville in double overtime in the Big East tournament - also at the Garden - three weeks ago. After beating Delaware State, Massachusetts and North Carolina State to get to New York, the Mountaineers were pushed to the limit by Mississippi State.

Clemson also has won four straight since losing to Florida State in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, beating East Tennessee State, Mississippi and Syracuse before hanging on against Air Force.

K.C. Rivers scored 19 points and Trevor Booker added 13 to lead the Tigers.