Senior guard Ricky Harris admitted to being the most nervous he has ever been before he was honored at the Mullins Center Saturday afternoon.
Those nerves produced a game-high 28 points, seven rebounds and five assists, as Harris led the Massachusetts men’s basketball team to a 69-67 victory over Rhode Island, as well as securing a spot in the Atlantic 10 tournament.
“I was jittery because I was going into my last game thinking I had to make every shot,” Harris said. “In the second half I started to relax, and you could tell I was nervous because I kept coming up short a lot in the first half. This is just a great feeling; the fans and community did a great job.”
Harris hit the game-winning layup with 3.5 seconds left in regulation to win the game for the Minutemen, while scoring his final basket at the Mullins Center in fashion.
“Taking a shot like that on senior night, that’s big and I give credit to God and my family,” Harris said. “Coach Kellogg put the ball in my hands and he had confidence that I could make it, and I knocked it down.”
While the season has been full of ups and downs, Harris remained UMass’ most consistent player, leading the team in minutes (31.0 per game), points (19.2) and assists (89).
“It’s been tough, obviously I wanted to win more games,” Harris said. “I know my teammates are behind me though and that just makes it a lot easier for me. The freshmen are willing to listen and to learn.”
Before the victory over the Rams, the Minutemen were in the midst of a four-game losing streak and knew the game was a must-win in order for UMass to continue its season.
Harris took it personally.
“It was win or go home for us,” Harris said. “We weren’t praying for a Saint Joe’s loss. It was just win or go home. I got at least one text [message] from each of my teammates yesterday saying not to worry because we were going to win this game, and it happened.”
The Hawks defeated La Salle yesterday, so if the Minutemen fell to URI, their season, as well as Harris’ career, would’ve come to a disappointing end.
Harris passed Lou Roe to move to third in career-scoring for UMass with 1,917 points, while keeping the Minutemen’s postseason hopes afloat.
He went 10-of-21 from the field and 2-of-11 from 3-point range, including 6-of-11 from the free-throw line.
Along with the rest of the Minutemen, UMass coach Derek Kellogg attributed the team’s success to his best player.
“From the bottom of my heart, I wanted to win this for Ricky,” Kellogg said. “I kept telling the guys since our last game, let’s put forth a great effort for him. It doesn’t mean you are definitely going to win, but it at least gives us a good chance to win. He has meant a lot to this program and he has been a rock in a foundation for me this year with these guys.”
The Minutemen now head to Charlotte as the No.-11 seed in the opening round of the A-10 tournament on Tuesday evening.
“I think we can make a run at it because I think we haven’t really been blown out by a lot of the top teams other than Dayton,” Harris said. “With a win like that against a possible NCAA team, I think that says a lot. We can do a lot more winning if we stay positive and stay on this path.”
In order for the Minutemen to advance, they have to rely on Harris to come up with big plays like the one he converted on Saturday.
“I definitely thought about this moment sometime in my 22 years living, yeah,” Harris said, regarding the buzzer-beater as time expired. “It’s like a dream come true and I’m totally stunned and emotional right now.”
David Brinch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.