Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg is a believer in a lot of things.
After Thursday night, one of them might be déjà vu.
Two days after a thrilling, season-opening victory over Harvard at the Mullins Center, a game that ended with Sampson Carter’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer, the Minutemen apparently had room in their suitcases to bring more heroics with them to Puerto Rico.
Terrell Vinson’s tip-in as time expired lifted UMass to a shocking 77-75 win over Providence to open the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament in Bayamón, Puerto Rico.
“To have two games like that in a week, sometimes you don’t have two of those in a season, I think we’re fortunate (and) because the guys have worked hard and are committed to the team and the program, good things are going to happen,” Kellogg said.
The end of Thursday’s game played out nearly identically to that of Tuesday’s finish.
UMass trailed 75-72 with 90 seconds remaining, but just like he did on Tuesday, Jesse Morgan drilled a deep 3-pointer – from almost the same spot on the floor as on Tuesday – to deadlock the game at 75 with 1:21 to go.
After the Friars and Minutemen failed to pull ahead on possessions in the final minute, UMass got the ball back with 22 seconds left with a chance – just like Tuesday – to win in the game’s final possession.
Chaz Williams dribbled the clock down to the final seconds and began his drive, but unlike Tuesday, when he kicked it out to a wide-open Carter, the point guard stopped in the lane and launched a floater. It clanged off the rim, but Vinson rose over a defender to tip the ball before the buzzer, and watched as it rolled around and in as he slid to the hardwood.
“(Vinson) is a kid that’s won everywhere he’s been and I thought that was another big-time winning play,” Kellogg said. “Him and Chaz really worked that ball screen well to make a big-time play.
“Hopefully we don’t have many more of those, but I am happy that we’ve been able to pull off two games in the closing seconds.”
The Friars (2-1), playing without star point guard Vincent Council, who was out with an injury, and a depleted roster of seven players and just six players on scholarship, performed admirably as they hung tough with a more experienced and deeper UMass squad for the entire 40 minutes.
PC jumped out to an early 8-2 advantage, but the Minutemen (2-0) stormed back, putting together an 18-4 run to take command. The Friars, however, wouldn’t go away, scratching and clawing their way to just a 41-35 deficit at halftime.
UMass continued to open the door throughout the second half as it committed 17 turnovers throughout the game to PC’s 11. The Friars retook the lead at the 9:43 mark of the second half, and grew its advantage to as many as five at 65-60 with 5:29 remaining.
But just like Tuesday, the Minutemen started making plays when it mattered the most down the stretch and continuously counterpunched PC’s shots. Trailing by three with 1:51 remaining, Carter sank two free throws, and after LaDontae Henton put in a lay-up, Morgan drained a triple. With 22 seconds left, Carter drew a charge on Henton, which set up the heroics.
Friars guard Bryce Cotton, who played all 40 minutes, led all scorers with 23 points. Morgan, playing off the bench again, paced the Minutemen with 18 points in 24 minutes. Williams contributed 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists, but committed six turnovers, while Vinson and Raphiael Putney scored 14 and 10 points, respectively.
Next up for UMass is a date with No. 6 NC State in the semifinals of the tournament on Friday. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN2 at 5 p.m.
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.