Milligan’s strong play often goes unnoticed

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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Click here to listen to Eli Rosenswaike and Michael King preview the NIT Championship game between UMass and Ohio State

Opposing coaches often mention how important it is to stop Gary Forbes and Chris Lowe when playing the Massachusetts men’s basketball team.

They rarely seem to discuss Dante Milligan, except after games when the senior center has a game-changing, double-double performance.

Milligan’s 17 point, 12 rebound outburst on Tuesday night in the National Invitation Tournament semifinals against Florida is one of many recent examples.

“I thought Milligan was a definite difference up front,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said after the 78-66 loss. “I thought he had a really special game.”

UMass will likely need another such performance from Milligan tonight against Ohio State in the NIT Championship game. The Minutemen must contend with 7-foot Kosta Koufos down low, and may have to do so with reduced services from the hampered Tony Gaffney.

Gaffney played just four minutes against Florida. He had an emphatic slam dunk for his only field goal, but didn’t appear to be 100 percent in his brief stint. Luke Bonner played 11 minutes in place of Milligan. He had no points but had seven rebounds.

Not-so-free throws

If someone other than Ohio State’s Jamar Butler is shooting free throws during tonight’s game, the results may not please UMass coach Travis Ford or Buckeyes coach Thad Matta.

Both teams have struggled all season long at the foul line, with UMass shooting at a 67 percent clip and Ohio State slightly ahead at 68.5. Without Butler’s stellar free-throw shooting (82-of-87 for 94.3 percent), that number dips down to 63.7 percent.

With the way Ohio State plays offensively, they rarely even get to the foul line. Despite the Minutemen’s struggles there, they have actually made more free throws (582) this season than the Buckeyes have even attempted (553).

All five UMass starters have attempted at least 110 free throws, while no Buckeye has taken more than 94.

In the NIT

It’s not as prestigious as the NCAA Tournament, but both teams have some history in the NIT.

Tonight’s matchup with UMass marks the third appearance for Ohio State in the NIT Championship game, and eighth overall in the NIT. The Buckeyes previously made title runs in both 1986 and 1988. They captured the NIT over Wyoming in ’86 and fell to Connecticut two years later in the finals. Their record now stands at 17-7 in the tournament all-time.

For UMass, this is its first trip to the NIT Championship game in school history – and the only time the Minutemen have played in the finals of any postseason tournament.

They made the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament in the 1995-96 season, losing to Kentucky, which is Ford’s alma mater. UMass’s furthest run in the NIT before this year was a Final Four appearance in 1990-91 under coach John Calipari. The Minutemen dropped that game to Colorado.

Irrelevant information

Ohio State and UMass met in the Final Four of the NCAA College Cup back on December 14. The Buckeyes won, 1-0, before eventually falling to Wake Forest in the title game. That makes Ohio State the current runners-up in the BCS National Championship, the NCAA Basketball Championship and in the College Cup