On his night, Ricky Harris hit the shot he’s dreamed of his entire life.
With his team tied at 67 with Rhode Island and a berth into the Atlantic 10 tournament on the line, Harris drove into the paint before hitting a tear-drop with three seconds remaining on the clock, sealing the 69-67 victory.
“Somewhere in my 22 years of living I definitely dreamt of this, playing in my backyard or playing against my little cousins,” Harris said. “Now it’s like a dream come true.”
While the shot on senior night sent the Massachusetts men’s basketball team into the A-10 tournament, it had far more implications than just that. The team it defeated, URI (21-8, 9-7 A-10), also could have knocked them out of the NCAA tournament picture. For La Salle, who beat the Minutemen (11-19, 5-11 A-10) on Wednesday, the shot knocked it out of the A-10 tournament.
While the contest at the Mullins Center wasn’t a must-win game for the Minutemen – they could have clinched a spot in the tournament if La Salle beat Saint Joseph’s – they certainly entered the game with that mentality.
“This game was do-or-die, we could either win or go home,” Harris said.
During the contest, the out-of-town scores were never announced so UMass could focus on the only game they could control that would help them reach the playoffs: its own.
The plan worked, as the Minutemen overcame a nine-point deficit with 11 minutes, 38 seconds left in the game. Over the next 5:40, it would be all UMass as it would go on a 12-1 run to take its first lead, 52-50, since the second minute of the game.
The Rams would go back on top by three a minute later, but Harris would score 10 of his 17 second-half points in the final five minutes of the game – including the Minutemen’s final six points of the game – to give his team the lift it needed.
With UMass trailing 57-55, Harris stood at the line for two free throws. The guard missed them both, but instead of giving the Rams an opportunity to make it a two-possession game, Harris fought through the paint to grab the offensive rebound and lay it in to tie the game.
The senior finished the night with a game-high 28 points on 10-of-21 shooting and also grabbed seven rebounds.
“I’m ecstatic that the team played the way they did for Ricky and that Ricky was able to play the way he did for the team and for the fans,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “I don’t think you could ask for a better ending for the way Ricky has been as a player, a person and an ambassador for the program.”
The Minutemen were also led by freshman Javorn Farrell who added 12 points in 33 minutes, and Sean Carter who had seven points and seven rebounds of his own.
UMass struck first in the contest with a jumper by Farrell from the free-throw line and led 4-2 a minute later, but the Rams took over quickly. Five minutes into the game they held a six-point lead and extended it to nine just over halfway through the half, but never extended the lead to double digits – always keeping UMass within striking distance.
Marquis Jones led URI’s scoring with 15 points and six assists, and Lamonte Ulmer added a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) as five Rams players finished in double-figure scoring.
The win gave UMass the No. 11 seed in the upcoming A-10 tournament, and with Dayton’s loss to Saint Louis Saturday evening, the Minutemen will face sixth-seeded Charlotte this Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the opening round. The Rams took the No. 5 seed and will host No. 12 St. Joe’s.
Jeffrey R. Larnard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.