NEW YORK -- Clemson expected Xavier to make a move. The Tigers knew the Musketeers weren't about to give up, even though they trailed by 24 points with less than 15 minutes to play.

Xavier made a run, all right, and Clemson was lucky to hold on for a 79-76 victory Tuesday night that advanced the Tigers to the NIT title game against California on Thursday night."We were quite certain they were not going to lay down," Clemson first-year coach Larry Shyatt said, "and we are very fortunate that we covered their run by making a couple of free throws down the stretch."

And when Lenny Brown's 3-point attempt at the buzzer bounced off the rim, the Tigers celebrated -- and breathed a sigh of relief.

"We were trying more or less to have the game be over rather than play through it," said guard Terrell McIntyre, who led Clemson with 20 points.

Clemson (20-14) built a 61-37 lead with 14:48 left, but Xavier (24-11) went on a 15-0 run to cut the lead to 61-52, then came all the way back and led 76-73 with 1:26 left on one of Brown's four 3-pointers.

The Tigers, though, hit six free throws down the stretch -- two apiece by Harold Jamison, Tom Wideman and Andrus Jurkunas -- to survive.

Clemson is looking for its first postseason title of any kind since winning the Southern Conference 60 years ago.

Gary Lumpkin, who had four 3-pointers, led Xavier with 16 points.

California (21-11) had a much easier time in beating Oregon 85-69 in the first semifinal, played before an announced crowd of 9,455 in Madison Square Garden. In the women's NIT title game at Fayetteville, Ark., Tuesday night, a crowd of more than 14,000 showed up as Arkansas beat Wisconsin.

Michael Gill made certain Cal didn't need a comeback. Gill scored all of his career-high 22 points in the second half -- 17 in the first nine minutes -- as the Golden Bears beat Oregon (19-12) after going 0-2 against the Ducks this season in Pac-10 play.