UMass finds second wind
AMHERST — In an effort to win back its once-loyal fan base, the University of Massachusetts men’s basketball coaches and players delivered season tickets to fans at their houses.
After the first half of last night’s opener against Rider, it looked as if the Minutemen would have to resort to more drastic measures.
Trailing Rider by 21 points after a singularly dreadful half of hoop, it looked as if UMass might need coach Derek Kellogg to bake some cookies. Or have seniors Anthony Gurley and Gary Correia donate a few hours of yard work. Or perhaps encourage wealthy alums such as Rick Pitino, Julius Erving, and Marcus Camby to donate some BMWs.
But in the second half, UMass made a pitch for support in the only real way it might work — by playing some ferocious basketball. Roaring all the way back behind Gurley (19 of his career-high 31 points in the second half) and Freddie Riley (23 of his career-high 28), the Minutemen posted a stirring 77-67 victory.
“I was 37 years old when the game started,’’ said Kellogg. “And I think I’m 45 now. I never felt more disappointed in a team at halftime, but I’ve never felt more proud of a team after the game.’’
At halftime, “It felt terrible,’’ Gurley said. “It seemed like at one point in the first half we hit a brick wall, and we couldn’t move.’’
UMass seemed utterly inept on offense and consistently frustrated on defense as Rider picked the Minutemen apart, led by Mike Ringgold (21 points). The body language was very telling as UMass players sagged and slouched — as if the preseason excitement had drained away. The crowd of 3,784 was taken completely out of the game.
In the first few minutes of the second half it was more of the same sluggish play, this time on both ends. At one point, Rider coach Tommy Dempsey screamed out, “They’re making us lazy. Play hard!’’
It never happened.
The team that responded was UMass, as the Minutemen woke from hibernation with a vengeance.
Riley began draining threes (6 for 11 on the game and 10 for 15 overall from the field) as UMass began eating away at the deficit. With 7:41 left, he swished one from way beyond the arc on the right side and the Minutemen were tied, 55-55.
Thirty-five seconds later, Gurley blazed to the hoop for a layup that put UMass ahead to stay. Gurley’s last 2 points put him over the 1,000 mark for his career.
The two halves, Gurley said, were like “night and day. We dug ourselves a big hole. But at the end, I was very proud to be a part of this team. I think we showed ourselves to be resilient.’’