UMass fans give its team a home game environment in road win against Harvard

The Minutemen came back to defeat the Crimson 71-68

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Dan Fritz/UMass Athletics

By Joey Aliberti, Managing Editor

The proportion of Massachusetts basketball fans compared to Harvard fans at the sold-out Lavietes Pavilion gave UMass (6-1) a home-game environment feel Friday night. In an arena that fits 1,636, Minutemen fans made it difficult to hear yourself think in their team’s 71-68 comeback win.

“I think it’s become the best basketball game in our state,” Crimson (6-3) coach Tommy Amaker said of the Harvard-UMass games. “I do believe it has that kind of rivalry and it’s been these kind of games.”

With Amaker being someone that Minutemen coach Frank Martin has known since 1982 when both were high school seniors, the two grew a fond relationship. So much to the extent that Amaker is in Martin’s list of guys he doesn’t enjoy coaching against because of their friendship.

“I’m not throwing any needles at anybody,” Martin said. “I don’t work that way, I believe what I say, I don’t play in innuendos. What an incredible game for the state of Massachusetts … Ryan [Bamford] told me about this, because I didn’t want to play Harvard. I’m coming from Power 5 where you don’t schedule Ivy Leagues, you just don’t. But everyone explained to me the beauty of this game and what it means … Unless something crazy happens — Tommy and I spoke before the game — it’s something we want to keep doing.”

During player introductions, Harvard was met with a wall of boos from the UMass fans in attendance. The Minutemen players, as expected, got the opposite. Before the game started, multiple “Lets go UMass” chants roared through the Pavilion. When Crimson fans attempted at “Lets go Harvard” chant to start the game, which was immediately met with more booing. Within the first couple possessions “defense” chants shook the floor when Harvard was on offense.

“It was confusing,” Martin said. “I hear the fans going nuts and I’m in a good mood because our players did something right. I’m used to being on the road yelling at them because we just messed something up to give the other team energy. It was confusing, but it’s fun.”

During a timeout break, there was a t-shirt toss from the Crimson’s staff, like every team does. Except this tosser had to scan through the crowds to find the smaller number of Harvard fans scattered in a section polluted with Minutemen fans.

Of course there were Crimson fans, a good amount of them were heard for long periods of the first half when Harvard had a 12-point lead over the Minutemen. Once UMass got rolling in the second half, the home cheers couldn’t be heard anymore.

“It was exciting,” Amaker said of the crowd. “It was an energetic, highly fought, intense kind of game. The crowd, all those things kind of make it that way.”

There was a moment when each team’s crowd was going back and forth with each other. UMass wing T.J. Weeks couldn’t help but crack a smile while on the court waiting for an inbounds pass.

“It felt like a home game for us,” Weeks said. “We had way more fans than [Harvard] did. I kind of loved that, so I was smiling about that.”

With the expectation of Minutemen fans flooding in anytime their team plays at Harvard, one of the main personas of UMass Twitter took initiative this past summer. The man who is widely known as Curry Hicks Sage on social media reached out to the Crimson before tickets were on sale.

Sage sent out a presale code, which sold out an entire section soon after it was released. Harvard kept on adding tickets and Minutemen fans kept on buying them. On top of buying from the presale code or directly through Harvard, Sage said around 75 people personally reached out to him, each asking for multiple tickets

“It’s awesome, I’ve been watching UMass games since I was seven,” Sage said. “I grew up in the area, didn’t go to UMass, and years back I just started this account … This is just fun. It’s all for the love of the game really.”

The Minutemen are winners of five straight heading into its first home game in nearly a month this upcoming Monday against Albany.

Joey Aliberti can be reached via email at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @JosephAliberti1.