AMHERST -- Their NCAA dreams might have clanged off the front rim, but the University of Massachusetts Minutemen can still take some pride in their 2006-07 season. UMass won 23 regular-season games, claimed a share of the Atlantic 10 regular-season title, and made it to the postseason for the first time in seven years.
And last night they summoned their maximum heart and grit in turning away an Alabama team that at one point was ranked No. 4 in the nation, 89-87, in an overtime heart-stopper at the Mullins Center. Chris Lowe hit the game-winner on a 15- foot floater with 3 seconds remaining, bringing the ball upcourt after Demetrius Jemison's put-back had knotted the game at 87.
The win was UMass's first postseason triumph since knocking off Allen Iverson and Georgetown to get to the Final Four in 1996. Since then, March had been the cruelest month for the Minutemen. They lost three straight postseason games (two NCAA, one NIT), and five straight games in the A-10 tournament, including last week's heartbreaker in OT to Saint Louis, a defeat that might have cost them a trip to the Big Dance.
In the first round of the Little Dance, they pulled out their best, however. Stephane Lasme extended his memorable season with a 21-point, 6-rebound, 9-block effort against an impressive Alabama frontcourt with as much size and athleticism as the Minutemen had seen all year.
Lowe was spectacular at the point, with 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting to go with 6 assists, 5 steals, and 7 rebounds. James Life added 12 points, while Gary Forbes (11) and Rashaun Freeman (10 points, 10 boards) rounded out a full-team effort.
Alabama forced the extra session on a scintillating, buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Mykal Riley (game-high 24 points). That came after Lowe had hit only one of two free throws with 5.5 seconds left in regulation to open the door at 83-80. Brandon
In overtime, UMass took an 87-85 lead with 1:15 remaining on an old-fashioned 3-point play by Forbes, barreling his way into the lane and flicking the ball off the glass.
Alabama (20-12) tied it on Jemison's put-back, but Lowe worked his way to the right elbow, bodied Hollinger away, and let fly from 15 feet for the winner.
UMass (24-8) continues its season tomorrow night at West Virginia, a 74-50 winner over Delaware State.
UMass went to the locker room with a sliver of a lead, 41-40, after a fierce first half in which emotions ran hot. UMass coach Travis Ford was whistled for a technical after vehemently protesting a foul against Freeman. During the ensuing free throws -- which knotted the game at 37 -- Ford continued his tirade and almost earned an early shower.
The Minutemen seemed to feed off Ford's energy as fan favorite Luke Bonner scored on a put-back, followed by a nifty steal from Lowe, leading to a Life dunk. Lasme then swatted away his fifth shot of the half, but Justin Tubbs cashed in on the redirection, nailing a 3-pointer before the buzzer.