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May 14, 2016

Local fans excited to see UMass basketball back in NCAA Tournament

Taylor C. Snow/Daily Collegian

Taylor C. Snow/Daily Collegian

As the Massachusetts men’s basketball team paraded into Amherst Brewing Company on Sunday evening to hear its name announced as one of the teams in the NCAA Tournament field, fans lined both sides of the hallway, giving them a round of applause.

Those fans understood what this team went through this season; a grueling non-conference schedule and then the even more difficult grind of Atlantic 10 play. And as UMass’ name blinked across the screen the first time as a glitch on CBS’ part, and then the second time for real, they celebrated the moment just as emotionally as the players and coaches did.

“It was exciting,” Tom Kennedy said. “I’ve been a season ticket holder for almost 20 years and we lived through the great years and then some lean years and now it’s awesome again.”

If you were to ask any of the players on UMass this season what motivated them, the first answer would be to make it to the NCAA Tournament. The second response: the fans.

Fans packed Mullins Center for many of the Minutemen’s home games this season, whether it was at 11 a.m. against Louisiana State, on a week night matchup or for a top-notch A-10 program, the “Mullins Maniacs” showed up and were loud.

There were three sellouts this season at Mullins Center — Dec. 28 against Providence, Feb. 21 versus Virginia Commonwealth and March 9 against No. 17 Saint Louis — and one additional sellout at the MassMutual Center in Springfield against Brigham Young. So for the fans to have the opportunity to celebrate this moment with the same team that they supported all season was just as special for them as it was for the team.

“It’s just awesome to be surrounded by so many UMass fans,” David Morin said. “I don’t think anybody was expecting them to be the No. 6 seed, but they really earned it and as much as nobody really expected it, they deserved it.”

That same passion that was often on display at Mullins Center was also on present in some road games. Fans showed up in force at games in Philadelphia, Pa., Washington, D.C., Charleston, S.C., and in Brooklyn, N.Y., for the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

Now, with their first game in Raleigh, N.C., one of the closer locations, it will be up to the fans to once again show their support for the Minutemen as they take the floor on Friday afternoon, officially ending a 16-year Tournament drought.

“My friend just booked his tickets and I’m thinking about it,” Kennedy said. “We have a buddy that lives (in Raleigh), so I may go.”

Despite the fact that UMass landed in the Midwest Region, arguably the toughest of the four, and are a trendy pick to be upset in the second round, don’t expect the diehard fans to sell their team short.

“I expect to see them make an appearance in the (third) round and I hope they give Duke a hell of a run,” Morin said. “I’m hoping they can pull out a W (against Duke), then they’re unstoppable.”

Stephen Hewitt and Mark Chiarelli contributed to this report. Patrick Strohecker can be reached at pstrohec@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @P_Strohecker.

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