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May 4, 2017

UMass withstands game filled with unpredictable outcomes

By the final possession of the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s 69-67 victory over Providence on Saturday, the 9,493 in attendance could anticipate only two things.

Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

First, the outcome would produce a raucous reaction no matter the outcome of the possession. The sellout crowd – the first sellout at Mullins Center since 2006 – spent the majority of the second half and overtime sessions standing and cheering, often deliriously. The ebbs and flows of the game seemed to coincide perfectly with a crowd that noticeably impacted momentum shifts throughout the game.

Second, expect the unexpected.

The Minutemen did not play their cleanest game to this point, nor did they execute against the Friars’ zone to the standards the No. 23 team in the nation set for themselves from strong play throughout the season. To compound the inconsistent play, UMass shot just 39 percent from the floor, went 9-for-18 from the free throw line and played the final six minutes, 36 seconds of basketball without its leader Chaz Williams, who fouled out.

Yet the Minutemen withstood a Friars comeback that erased a 10-point UMass lead over the final four minutes of play. They withstood the loss of their primary ball-handler and leader in the final minutes of the game. And they withstood the attempted heroics of Providence guard Bryce Cotton, who tied the game twice; the first coming on a layup with 10 seconds remaining to tie the game in regulation and the second coming on a 3-pointer which tied the game at 67-67 in overtime.

So it was almost fitting that Derrick Gordon, who was thrust into the primary role of defending Cotton after Williams fouled out, could be rewarded by an effort on the offensive end. And so he was, corralling a loose ball off an unpredictable ricochet which resulted from an errant Davis jumper on the final possession and quickly floating it back toward the rim with just 1.1 seconds remaining.

It wasn’t how many would’ve drawn it up, but the result was just as sweet.

“This is probably the first team we’ve had that can win a lot of different ways,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “We can win when the game’s fast, we can win in the half court. That just shows the guys have matured and we’re better as a team and a program.”

If there was a script the Minutemen would like to follow, Saturday’s victory certainly wouldn’t have mirrored it. Maxie Esho and Trey Davis combined for 22 of the team’s 69 points off the bench while totaling 51 minutes of play. Sampson Carter shot just 5-of-18 from the floor yet did not attempt a single free throw in a physical game.

However, Saturday’s victory proved yet another lesson in the value of team unity, something which evolved in the final minutes of the game after Williams fouled out on a controversial final foul call.

“I looked at Trey (Davis), I looked at (Derrick Gordon), I looked at everybody that was on the floor and everybody gave me a head nod like they were ready to finish the game,” Williams said. “And that’s what they did so I’m proud of my teammates for that.”

Davis guided the offense in the overtime period and the team reinserted Esho into the lineup. The Minutemen held off the Providence attack just long enough and were the beneficiaries of a couple of bounces in their direction in an unpredictable affair.

Every game it seems UMass has found a different way to win, whether it be on the backs of Williams or center Cady Lalanne or the complementary scoring from players such as Davis and Esho. As the season continues to develop, it’s a promising characteristic to have, especially in games with unpredictable endings.

“To come away with a victory when things weren’t perfect is a testament that we’ve matured and gotten better,” Kellogg said.

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at mchiarel@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.

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