Sometimes the opponent deserves credit and that’s the case with the University of Massachusetts. Yes, Drexel squandered a 17 points lead with under 16:30 left in the second half, in Tuesday’s 72-70 loss to the visiting Minutemen in the NIT quarterfinal, but UMass showed unbelievable heart, spirit and conditioning.
The Mintuemen didn’t even appear to be breathing heavily despite their relentless pressure.
After trailing 53-36 following a three-point play by Frant Massenat, UMass went on a 28-9 run to take the lead for good, 64-62 on Terrell Vinson's driving layup with 6:31 left.
Then it was Drexel that fought back, after twice trailing by six, before the final shot by Frantz Massenat missed with five seconds left.
“They are the type of team you have to keep the game in the 60’s,” Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said.
And for the longest time it appeared that would work.
Unlike many teams that struggle in the half-court setting, Drexel runs good sets when it isn’t in transition. The problem is that the Dragons couldn’t make UMass pay when they had open shots.
So much in college basketball depends these days on making three’s. Drexel was 7 for 10 from beyond the arc in Sunday’s 65-63 win over Northern Iowa.
And against UMass, the Dragons were 1 for 13. The Minutemen were 4 for 10.
UMass coach Derek Kellogg talked about how important it was to string a couple of threes together.. In that 28-9 run, the Minutemen hit all four of their treys.
Drexel was dead tired. Flint admitted it and so did the players. What was amazing was how much energy UMass had, forcing the issue, continuing the pressure. The Minutemen forced Drexel into nine of their 15 turnovers in the second half.
On the other end, guard Chaz Williams, who played all 40 minutes and had a game-high 20 poins for UMass, looked like he could go another 40.
This one will sting for awhile, because a 17-point lead at home, where the Dragons had been 15-0, seems like a sure winner.
Against most teams it would be but on this night, the opponent refused to quit. UMass has won all three NIT games on the road, one in double overtime at Mississippi State, another by 10 points at Seton Hall and now this game.
Few have shown more heart in adverse settings than the Minutemen which is why they have extended their season.
Even the most ardent Drexel fan would have to admire what the Minutemen have accomplished.