NEW YORK, NOV. 29 -- Pete Carlesimo did his best Saturday night. As the executive director of the National Invitation Tournament, he sat in Madison Square Garden watching the stirring tournament final between Florida and Seton Hall.

For most of the game, he sat impassively with wife Lucy, his arms folded. But during the last seconds of Florida's 70-68 victory, he couldn't control himself. Along with most fans, he clapped and cheered Seton Hall's dramatic rally from 20 points down.

"I can't help myself," he said softly. "I'm proud of this tournament. But blood is thicker than water."

His bias is understandable. Seton Hall is coached by the oldest of his 10 children, P.J. Carlesimo. After 20 years on the tournament committee, the elder Carlesimo is serving his last year as NIT chairman. The sight of his son coaching a team that came within one basket of the preseason title made his weekend a very emotional one.

"I've been in athletics for 50 years," he said Friday night after Seton Hall had routed New Mexico in the semifinals. "But tonight was the proudest night of my life. P.J. took over at Seton Hall when the program was at zero. Now, to bring it here, especially when this is my last year, well . . ."

He stopped there, shrugging his shoulders because tears had welled up in his eyes. "People really don't know how hard P.J. has worked to get this far."

People in basketball understand. The younger Carlesimo, 38, is not your typical coach. His major at Fordham was the Classics, as in classic literature. He came to Seton Hall six years ago with the program buried beneath the Big East.

It has been a tough road back: a 54-92 record in five seasons, improving from 6-23 in his first season to 15-14 a year ago.

Last season, there were two victories over Georgetown that raised eyebrows, but there were some near misses. Given the chance to play in the preseason NIT, he saw a chance to build confidence in a veteran team.

"In the first round {against George Mason}, we were playing not to lose," said P.J. Carlesimo. "We just couldn't start with a loss. Then in the next round {against Middle Tennessee}, we were playing to get to the Garden. To come to the Garden and play so well, it's a great feeling, and it will help us down the road."

In truth, down-the-road is more important. Seton Hall has started 3-1, proving a lot to itself by coming back against Florida, a legitimate top 10 team, and it must build on that.

But this past weekend, neither Carlesimo could help but be emotional about the son's presence in the father's tournament.

"When I was in high school {in Scranton, Pa.}, my team would come up to New York for the NIT semis and finals every year," the son said. "The first year was 1964. I saw Bradley and New Mexico. Funny, the first game I saw was New Mexico and then we end up playing them. The next year, I saw Joe Lapchick's last team beat Villanova in the final.

"To me, the NIT was the tournament back then. The NCAA was just that other tournament that UCLA won every year."

During the son's sophomore year at Fordham, the father became athletic director and a member of the NIT committee. In 1979, when the son was coaching at Wagner, his team played in the postseason NIT, losing in the first round. The NIT official who gave the Seahawks their watches was Pete Carlesimo.

"I really have tried not to think about the emotions of this weekend," the son said Friday night. "I'll think about it Saturday after the game. It is an emotional thing for me and for my family. I know I'll feel it on the floor during the presentations, win or lose."

The loss came when John Morton's forced 25-footer that could have won the game -- with a couple of other players open for better shots -- bounced off the rim. The Seton Hall charge had fallen just short, making the postgame scene more melodramatic.

When the father gave the son the runner-up award, there were tears and a long, lingering hug. "There's a lot of disappointment, being so close and losing," the son said. "But I'm very proud of the way our kids picked their heads up at halftime and came back."

He was not the only one in the building with reason to feel proud.

Florida Starts Well

More on the NIT: If the first two preseason NITs are a guide, Florida will be in the Final Four. Duke and Nevada-Las Vegas, the first two winners, got to the Final Four.

Florida has that kind of potential. Tournament MVP Vernon Maxwell is an all-America; sophomore center Dwayne Schintzius will only get better at 7-foot-2, and 6-7 Livingston Chatman is as good as any freshman player in the country. He has a wide body, in the J.R. Reid mold, that makes him a monster in the post, a soft shooting touch and unusual maturity, especially under pressure.

"I thought Livingston could be an outstanding player when we signed him," Coach Norman Sloan said. "I never dreamed he would be this good, this fast." . . .

It was a tough weekend in New York for the New Mexico team. Not only did it lose to Seton Hall and Iowa State, one of its managers got mugged and lost $240 before Friday's game. Stuart Greenberg, who is from Canton, Ohio, was sent back to the hotel when freshman Kurt Miller forgot his contact lenses. Greenberg walked out of Madison Square Garden, felt something cold against his ribs and was relieved of his wallet. To add thievery to thievery, six of the Lobos' warmups were stolen during the game.

The Upset Pick

After finishing with a rush last season -- two victories in the last four weeks -- The Upset Pick starts out with high hopes, although crestfallen at not getting to pick Arizona over Michigan (a lock) last week. To make up for lost time, there are two picks this week: Monday night, Arizona -- very underrated at No. 17 in the polls -- stuns Syracuse in the Great Alaska Shootout final. Then, Saturday, Xavier makes an early mark by going to Marquette and winning there for the first time.