Even an early 11 a.m. start time couldn’t prevent the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s season from continuing.
Playing in yet another win or go home situation, UMass (24-11) prevailed, as it knocked off top-seeded Seton Hall, 77-67, in a hostile, sold out Walsh Gymnasium on Saturday, to move on to the quarterfinal round of the National Invitation Tournament.
“I was happy with the final outcome, I thought the victory was nice for the team,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg in a postgame radio interview. “I was happy with the way the kids persevered and fought [coming] into a tough environment.”
With six minutes, 42 seconds remaining in the game, UMass found itself in a four-point hole, trailing 60-56, after commanding most of the game. But just as they have done so often in recent weeks, the Minutemen persevered.
Terrell Vinson kick started a run with an and-1 off of a feed from Chaz Williams. And after Sean Carter made a reverse layup and Williams hit back-to-back free throws, UMass was back out in front, 63-60, with 5:02 left.
Seton Hall didn’t back down, though. Herb Pope answered a Vinson jumper with two free throws to make it a one-point game with 3:24 left. But with a chance to take the lead on the ensuing possession, Fuquan Edwin turned the ball over.
Vinson then found Williams, who buried a huge 3-pointer to extend the Minutemen’s lead to 68-64. On the Pirates’ next possession, Pope turned the ball over again, and on the other end, Williams returned the favor, passing it to Vinson, who drained a deep 3-pointer to give UMass a 71-64 lead with 1:38 to go.
Those two shots proved to be the difference makers. A Jordan Theodore and-1 with 54 seconds remaining narrowed it to a five-point game, but it proved to be too little, too late. The Minutemen made their free throws in the waning seconds to preserve the victory and keep their season alive.
Williams played all 40 minutes and finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Raphiael Putney scored 15 points and Sean Carter chipped in a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, while Maxie Esho came off the bench and scored nine points – which all came in the first half.
“It was a good total team effort, from the way Maxie, Freddie [Riley] and Javorn [Farrell] played at times coming off the bench to the guys that started, I thought we had a nice eight-man rotation,” said Kellogg. “The kids are confident right now. They’re playing pretty hard and we’re competing at a high level.”
UMass was in control for most of the first half, and were on top by as much as 11 midway through. But Seton Hall came back, narrowing its deficit to six by halftime.
In the second half, the Pirates slowed the game down while chipping away at the Minutemen’s lead. A Pope layup gave them a 54-53 lead with 9:33 to go in the game, but that didn’t deter Williams and his teammates.
“We just wanted to stick to our game plan and just keep playing,” said Williams. “Coach always says that no matter what the other team does, as long as we play UMass basketball, nobody can compete with us.”
The fifth-seeded Minutemen will now await the winner of tomorrow’s matchup between Drexel and Northern Iowa for a Tuesday night date in the quarterfinals.
If the seventh-seeded Panthers win, then UMass will host Tuesday’s game at the Mullins Center. If the third-seeded Dragons come out on top, the Minutemen will go on the road to Philadelphia, where Kellogg and former UMass coach and current Drexel coach Bruiser Flint will square off.
“I’d love to see him win,” said Kellogg. “I think it would be a great game for the UMass family, the people that appreciated what he did up at UMass and it would also be a great game for television.”
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Hewitt.