Minutemen victorious in Pick-up Invitational

By Collegian Sports Staff

Failing to qualify for both the NCAA Tournament and the National Invitational Tournament, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team settled for participating in the UMass Recreation Center Pick-up Invitational Tournament…thing.

Over the weekend, five members of the Minutemen entered the Rec Center looking to lead No. 1 seed UMass to the championship. At the guards, the Minutemen started Lex Mongo and David Gibbs, while Ricky Harris, Hashim Bailey and Raphiael Putney anchored the frontcourt.

What would normally be an undersized unit, UMass stood tall above its competition, which consisted of 5-8 freshmen and 170-pound sophomores. Though the Minutemen had the experience of playing in Division I basketball, their opponents were not far behind, having played in multiple cartoon league championships.

To win the championship, UMass would need to win three games up to 11 points. There would be no clock, which seemingly favored the Minutemen who simply ran out of time in many games this season.

The Minutemen showed signs of rust in the first game, after not playing since their loss in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament to Richmond on March 12.

Unable to get off to a quick lead, they missed their first 10 shots from beyond the arc. Despite having a size advantage in the paint, UMass relied on the 3-point shot much like it did all season long.

The opposition took advantage and surprisingly took an early 5-0 lead. Harris, as he’s known to do, quickly drained four 3-pointers to put the Minutemen ahead, 8-5. The other team though, went back to its mismatch on the other end of the floor, giving the ball to its center who weighed just south of 250 pounds. He was able to out-muscle Putney down low, and scored on three consecutive possessions to tie the game at eight apiece.

Refusing to suffer a first-round upset, Harris hit a running bank shot off the glass before nailing an NBA-range 3-pointer for the 11-8 win. The first game would serve as a warm-up for UMass, which steamrolled its opponent in the semifinals.

Game two featured Harris hitting six 3-pointers, which was one point more than the Minutemen needed for the win. Nevertheless, Harris was on fire, so why waste energy to attack the basket. On defense, UMass ran the 2-3 zone, as all five players locked down the opposition to earn the 11-0 shut-out.

Though the Minutemen earned their spot in the championship game, the contest sapped a lot of energy from the team.

Playing without time or a bench, UMass began to fatigue in the finals and started to take risks and make mistakes. Bailey stayed on the offensive end after a couple missed baskets and attempted to cherry-pick points. The gamble, however, didn’t pay off as the Minutemen allowed three points while picking up none.

About midway through the game, UMass got an opportunity to tie the contest at six, but were hit with a questionable charging call on Putney. Somehow, an opposing player fell down after being bumped by Putney, which seemed like a flop to everyone in attendance.

Then, with both teams tied at nine, Gibbs got an opportunity to seal the win in transition when he found himself wide open for a three. Initially hesitating, Gibbs finally pulled the trigger after shouts from his teammates, taking his first shot of the tournament. The ball went halfway through the basket before excruciatingly rimming out, keeping the game knotted.

On the ensuing possession, Mongo made the play of the tournament with a defensive strip before finding Harris in transition for the game-winning trey. UMass celebrated at midcourt before being presented the Rec Center Trophy for its championship effort. Harris was named MVP as he scored all 33 points for the Minutemen on the day.

As URCPIT champions this season, UMass looks to repeat next year and raise another proud banner.

Doug Wiggins can be reached at [email protected].

Editor’s Note: April Fools.