Nothing like a Ricky Nelson lead in to my latest post. But before I get to the main part of this posting, ESPN is reporting that George Mason coach Jim Larranaga has signed a three year extension with the Patriots and has turned down an offer to be the head coach at his alma mater, Providence. Its a really solid move by Larranaga. He has probably a lifetime job with the Patriots (as a result of making the Final Four in 2006), while Providence, though a solid school, is not really an elite Big East program. It would be much more difficult for him to be able to recruit and have a successful program at Providence considering the depth of the talent of the schools in the Big East. Tom Pecora made a similar decision signing an extension at Hofstra rather than take the Seton Hall position two years ago.
Well obviously, as the title states, I was at Madison Square Garden last night for the NIT semifinals where the UMass fans definitely partied as the Minutemen came back from a nine point halftime deficit and defeated Florida 78-66 in the first game. In the second game, thanks to an absolutely pitiful first half performance by Ole Miss, Ohio State defeated the Rebels 71-59.
The first game had a very nice rousing atmosphere as a lot of the UMass fans came down for the game. Florida marched out to a 36-27 halftime lead on the strength of their inside play of Marreese Speights and Dan Werner who combined had 27 points and 28 rebounds for the game. The Gators had a 28-18 rebounding advantage at halftime (it was 50-41 Gators for the game). What also helped the Gators in the first half is that UMass seemingly clanked every three pointer in the first half (at one time they were 2 of 17 from beyond the three point arc before making three of their last seven three point shots).
After a very nice halftime performance by the Florida Gator dance team (the team only consisted of six girls, but six of the most beautiful girls you will ever see - glad I had center court seats in the 124 section), Florida maintained its lead for the first two minutes, leading 40-32 with 18:12 left before the Minutemen went on a 27-11 run over the next nearly 11 minutes. With point guard Gary Forbes knifing inside and Dante Milligan working hard on every play inside, the Minutemen rolled by the Gators to take the lead 52-49 on Etienne Brower with 9:52 left before extending it to 59-51 on another Brower three with 7:31 left. That three pointer resulted in a 30 second Gator timeout and the large UMass contingent was rockin. Florida would come as close as six, 66-60 with 1:47 left but would get no closer. What also didn't help the Gators was an absolutely dreadful 8 of 21 from the free throw line.
UMass nearly had five players in double digits as Forbes had 19 points, Milligan had 17 points and 12 rebounds, Ricky Harris and Chris Lowe had 16 each and Brower had all eight of his points in the second half. Tom Kemp, UMass is very talented. A little wild and out of control at times, but very talented. Forbes is as quick as a hiccup and Milligan is a very solid hard working forward.
I am not going to say much about the second game because we only stayed until halftime, but that's all we needed to see. Ohio State and Ole Miss were tied at 8 before the much taller Buckeyes went out on a 19-2 run to put them up 27-10 with 10:23 left in the first half. The Rebels were undisciplined with the ball, careless with their shot selection and even worse not hustling. There was one play in particular where there was a rebound late in the first half where Mississippi forward Malcolm White just stood watching the ball thinking it was going out of bounds. White though didn't box out, and the Ohio State forward hustled by him hit it off White and the Buckeyes got the ball. If I was Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy, I would have yanked White right off the court there and sat it him the rest of the game. I have only seen two worse first half efforts this season than this; Hofstra at home vs. Stony Brook and Kent State in the first round of the NCAA tournament (honorable mention goes to Hofstra again vs. Towson in the first round of the CAA tournament).
So the Rebels were down 44-20 at half. And guess what happens after we left (as did most of the rest of the crowd - in fact a lot of Ohio State fans left too!). Ole Miss of course had the obligatory second half run to cut the lead to eleven, 56-45 with 11:23 left in the game. But of course, as noted here many times, the team coming from behind expends so much energy digging themselves out of a hole, there is nothing left. The Buckeyes would extend the lead back to fifteen, 61-46 with 10:15 left. Ohio State still had a fifteen point lead, 73-58 with 5:18 left before Ole Miss, who did shoot 10 of 20 from beyond the three point arc, made one last run, cutting the lead to seven, 75-68 with 1:44 left but couldn't get any closer. Evan Turner, Jamal Butler, Kosta Koufos and David Lighty combined for 66 of the 81 Buckeye points. Chris Warren led the Rebels with 19 points, and Dwayne Curtis, who was the only Rebel who really played hard for the entire time on the court had 12 points and 15 rebounds. The Rebels also shot a Floridaesque 9 of 20 from the free throw line - yes, shoot 50 percent from three and 45 percent from the line go figure - ah the lost art of free throw shooting. And by the way, that was the first non-conference loss of the year by the Rebels. All their previous ten losses were in the SEC.
So UMass faces Ohio State in the championship game tomorrow night. It will seem like a UMass home game to the Buckeyes. It will be interesting to see if UMass can deal better with Ohio State's size than Ole Miss did.