Considering the other NIT final four teams were Washington, Minnesota and UMass' opponent on Tuesday night, Stanford, it kind of figured from a geographical sense that the Minutemen would have the largest contingent at the World's Most Famous Arena. But I wasn't prepared for the sea of maroon that made up most of the Garden crowd as I entered my seat in Section 118.
Now in the first of three ironic twists of fate for me on the evening, our seats ended up being in the only Stanford section at the Garden Tuesday night. When I got to my seat along with my friends Tieff and Mal, the game was tied at nine as Chaz Williams hit all three of his free throws after being fouled on a three point attempt. However, it would be a long while before I would see UMass tie the game again.
This wasn't the same UMass team that I saw rally against Drexel the week before. Instead of getting it inside to their bigs, like the terrific Vinson, they seemed too happy to either have Chaz Williams drive the lane or chuck up three pointers. Nearly half of their thirty two shots in the first half, fifteen were three pointers. They only hit on four of those.
Down 28-19, the Minutemen did go on a 10-3 spurt to cut the lead to two, 31-29 with about four minutes left. In the second ironic twist of the night, Riley accounted for five of those points, as he hit his only two shots of the first half in that spurt. UMass would enter the half only down three 36-33. It seemed that momentum was on the side of the "home" team.
At halftime, the three of us went out into the newly renovated MSG concourse. I have to say the Garden folks did a magnificent job. The concourse and the hallways are much, much wider. In fact, they are so wide, they are wider than most of the concourse at Met Life Stadium. Yes, a 20,000 seat basketball arena has a much wider concourse than an 82,000 seat football stadium.
The second half was mostly a nip and tuck affair. For the first sixteen minutes of the half, Stanford's largest lead was five points. UMass would keep it close, mainly due to Williams, who scored twelve second half points, six more than any other Minutemen player. However, UMass would only have the lead once, when Riley hit his only field goal of the second half, a three pointer that put the Minutemen up 50-49.
This time, the Minutemen couldn't capitalize on those turnovers. Williams hit two free throws to tie the game at fifty two with 7:18 left. But after that, Stanford went on a 15-4 run over the next five plus minutes. Duiring that span, UMass went ice cold from the field, missing eight of their nine field goal attempts. Williams seemed out of control, missing on all three of his attempts in that span.
Williams did his best to try to keep the Minutemen and the Mid Majority's last hope in the NIT alive by scoring six of his team's last eight points. But it wasn't enough, Stanford went on to win 74-64. The Cardinal had another thirty rebounds in the second half as they held UMass to thirty percent shooting from the field in the last twenty minutes.
Stanford showed nice balance, with four scorers in double figures, led by Brown's eighteen. Josh Owens had fifteen points, Aaron Bright had thirteen and Chasson Randle had twelve points. Meanwhile, for UMass, only Williams with nineteen points and Riley with ten had double figure. Williams and Riley combined to shoot ten of twenty eight from the field. Vinson, who was terrific against Drexel, only had eight points, ten less than he had against the Dragons.
Shortly after the buzzer had sounded, there was a mass exodus from the Garden seats of the folks in maroon. As Tieff, Mal and I went out to the concourse in search of ice cream, the ultimate comfort food, there seemed to be a Minuteman fan clad in team colors every two feet. You saw the occasional Stanford, Minnesota or even the rare Washington fan. They were though few and far between in a sea of UMass faithful.
So most of the 7500 in attendance were leaving unhappy. It was a shame given the terrific turnout of support for their school. Having attended many NIT games over the years at the Garden, it was definitely one of the best fan bases I ever saw for one team.
In the end though, it didn't matter. When you shoot not even thirty four percent from the field on the game, it's hard to win, even at "home".
And last night, UMass didn't win at "home".