The Massachusetts men’s basketball team entered Friday’s Charleston Classic semifinal undefeated. Its wins were notable, but it was still looking for that one marquee win that would grab the nation’s attention.
On Friday, it got that win.
With seven minutes, 56 seconds left in the game, the Minutemen and No. 19 New Mexico were tied 61-61. Then UMass went on 16-0 run over the next six minutes to pull away from the Lobos and earn a trip to the Charleston Classic championship game on Sunday night, with an 81-65 victory.
The Minutemen will play Clemson for the championship at 9 p.m. Sunday.
It was the program’s first win against a nationally-ranked opponent since the 2012 Atlantic 10 Tournament when it beat No. 21 Temple and the second time in four seasons it has started a season 5-0.
“I think it just shows the maturation of our team and program,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said in his postgame press conference. “You have to be ready for those games; you have to be in the right place at the right time to take advantage of those. We’ve had some opportunities in years past and we’ve won a few, but not as many as we’d like.”
The Minutemen (5-0) broke the game open quickly, using tenacious defense and clutch shooting down the stretch. By the time New Mexico (3-1) answered with a basket of its own, it was too little too late.
Senior forward Raphiael Putney got the run started with a thunderous dunk off a nice feed from Chaz Williams. Putney was only getting started with that dunk. He added seven more points, including a 3-pointer. He capped off the run with one more high-flying dunk for good measure.
UMass ended the game on a 20-4 run, with the quick turnaround from Thursday’s double-overtime game taking its toll on the Lobos.
“I didn’t anticipate a 20-4 run, but we were hoping that they would get tired,” Kellogg said.
New Mexico went cold at the wrong time, going 0-for-7 from the field during the six minute, 21 second stretch between baskets, including 0-for-4 on 3-pointers during that span.
The 16-0 run was the largest one for either side in a game that was full of momentum swings.
The Lobos took a 27-22 lead on a 7-0 run in the first half, but the Minutemen answered with a 14-0 run of their own to regain a 33-27 advantage.
After taking a 38-33 lead into halftime, UMass came out fast, eventually extending its lead to seven. But New Mexico stormed back, using a 9-3 run to close the deficit to a single point.
Entering the game, all the talk surrounded New Mexico’s two Naismith Award candidates, Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk. While Williams was held in check for much of the afternoon, Kirk was dominant on both ends of the floor. He scored a game-high 32 points and added 11 rebounds and five blocks, causing a lot of trouble for the UMass shooters around the basket and giving junior Cady Lalanne all he could handle down low.
Lalanne finished the game with 16 points and 14 rebounds, including 10 offensive boards. Williams led the Minutemen in scoring with 19 points, while Putney was right behind him with 18 points.
Patrick Strohecker can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @P_Strohecker.