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Minutemen earn at-large bid thanks to resume

JERREY ROBERTS
Sampson Carter, top, of the University of Massachusetts, defends DeAndre' Bembry, of St. Joseph's, Jan. 8 at the Mullins Center. In the background, Cady Lalanne, right, handles Ronald Roberts.

JERREY ROBERTS Sampson Carter, top, of the University of Massachusetts, defends DeAndre' Bembry, of St. Joseph's, Jan. 8 at the Mullins Center. In the background, Cady Lalanne, right, handles Ronald Roberts.

By MATT VAUTOUR @GazetteUMass
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
(Published in print: Wednesday, March 19, 2014)

A year ago, when the NCAA announced the field for its 2013 tournament without the University of Massachusetts, it appeared that the Minutemen’s lack of signature wins was a big factor in their exclusion. A year later, UMass gave the committee plenty to look at. The following is a look at the wins that laid the foundation for the Minutemen’s return to the NCAA tournament:

UMass 86, Boston College 73 — TD Garden, Nov. 10 — From a computer rankings standpoint, this game ended up doing very little for the Minutemen. Other than stunning No. 1 Syracuse, the Eagles massively fell short of preseason expectations when many people thought they might contend for an NCAA at-large berth.

But in early November, this win gave the players confidence and the fan base energy. Given how much his offense has lessened down the stretch, it’s easy to forget that Cady Lalanne had 27 points and 12 rebounds in this game.

UMass 92, LSU 80 —Mullins Center, Nov. 12 — Part of ESPN’s Season Tipoff, the Minutemen and Tigers gave a late-morning TV audience a show. Sampson Carter’s 17 point, six rebound showing was an early indication that the senior was going to have a solid season.

UMass 96, Nebraska 90 — Charleston Classic, Nov. 21 — This is the opposite of the BC game. Coming in, little was expected of the Cornhuskers. UMass was expected to win setting up a game with New Mexico. Behind 22 points by Derrick Gordon and 16 points and seven rebounds by Carter, the Minutemen withstood 30 points by Terran Pettaway to move to 3-0. Since then, the win has proven to be a key résumé asset for UMass. Nebraska owns wins over Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State and was ranked No. 41 in the RPI.

UMass 81, New Mexico 65 — Charleston Classic, Nov. 22 — This was a game-changer for the Minutemen. Not only did they beat the No. 19/20 ranked Lobos, but they dominated. All five UMass starters scored in double-figures led by Raphiael Putney’s 20 points. This win was an official announcement that the Minutemen had a chance to be a national presence this season and an NCAA tournament team.

UMass 62, Clemson 56 — Charleston Classic, Nov. 24 — Not only was this a solid win over a team that would stay on the NCAA tournament bubble until early March, it showed that they could win a defensive low-scoring contest and win when Chaz Williams (four points) struggled. The Tigers raised the profile of this win by beating Duke in January.

UMass 105, BYU 96 — MassMutual Center, Dec. 7 — In front of a sold-out MassMutual Center, the Minutemen and Cougars played one of the most entertaining college basketball games of the season. Williams delivered one of the best statistical performances ever by a UMass player finishing with a career-high 32 points and a school-record tying 15 assists.

UMass 69, Providence 67 — Mullins Center, Dec. 28 — At the time, it wasn’t apparent that the Minutemen were beating the future Big East champions, but in front of the Mullins Center’s first sellout of the season, UMass and Providence played a down-to-the-wire classic that should bolster the New England rivalry.

UMass 66, Saint Joseph’s 62 — Mullins Center, Jan. 8 — Like the Providence win, this got better over time as the Hawks played their way into the NCAA tournament. Williams was masterful with 22 points and made keys plays late as UMass erased a late nine-point deficit.

UMass 67, George Washington 61 — Smith Center, Feb 15 — Maybe the most important win of the season. UMass was coming off a tough stretch with losses to St. Joe’s, St. Bonaventure and George Mason and the Colonials hadn’t lost to anyone at home up to that point. Despite foul trouble and injuries to Williams and Trey Davis, who both played despite being under 100 percent, UMass found a way to deliver the gutty upset win.

UMass 80, Virginia Commonwealth 75 — Mullins Center, Feb. 21 — Few teams uncovered the Minutemen’s shortcomings in 2013 like VCU. Beating the Rams this year might have been the last thing UMass needed to clinch a tournament berth. The backcourt, which struggled so much against VCU last year, was terrific. Williams had 20 points. Gordon added 16 and Trey Davis, who was overwhelmed against the Rams last year, had 13 points, two assists and no turnovers.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage