PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Chaz Williams scored 20 points and UMass rallied from a 17-point second-half deficit to defeat Drexel and former Minutemen coach Bruiser Flint 72-70 in a NIT quarterfinal game on Tuesday.
Terrell Vinson had 14 of his 18 points after halftime and Jesse Morgan added 13 points for the Minutemen (25-11), who advanced to next Tuesday’s NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden against the winner of Wednesday’s Stanford-Nevada game.
“I’m proud of the team that we never caved in and did an amazing job in the second half,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said.
UMass shot 30 for 51 (58.8 percent) from the field while matching the most points scored this season against the Dragons, who entered fifth in the country in scoring defense (55.7 points per game).
The Minutemen shot 17 for 24 (70.8 percent) after halftime.
“That’s impossible, actually,” Kellogg said. “We made some tough shots on top of getting some good ones. When you play Drexel or a team coached by (Bruiser Flint) obviously you’re going to have to make some tough shots.”
Flint credited the Minutemen for the comeback. He coached UMass from 1996-2001 when he took over at Drexel.
They just wore us down to be honest with you,” Flint said of UMass’ pressing style. “We missed some plays, they capitalized on it. We just got worn down by their pace.”
Said Kellogg: “I just thought we played better defense in the second half. We’re a much better defensive team when we score the ball because we can set our defense.”
Dartaye Ruffin scored all 17 of his points in the first half to lead Drexel (29-7), which had its 18-game home winning streak snapped. Frantz Massenat added 16 points for the Dragons, who were one of the last teams left out of the NCAA tournament.
Drexel led 41-31 at halftime after Ruffin came within one of tying his career high with 18 points. And the Dragons took their biggest lead of the game early in the second half when Massenat converted a three-point play to give Drexel a 53-36 advantage with 16:26 remaining.
But the Minutemen, using full-court defensive pressure, slowly crawled back into the game. UMass finally went ahead on Morgan’s 3-pointer with 7:18 left that gave the visitors a 62-60 lead and capped a dominating 9:08 stretch where the Minutemen outscored Drexel 26-7.
“We’ve never been a quitting team,” Vinson said. “That’s been our motto since Day One. Never quit, give everything you’ve got.”
UMass maintained a slim lead down the stretch, reaching as much as six points on two occasions, but led 72-70 with 15.7 seconds left when Drexel called timeout with the ball.
The Minutemen could have taken a four-point lead on their previous possession, but Williams missed the front end of a one-and-one at the free throw line with 23 seconds left.
Massenat had a chance to tie it, but his 10-footer went off the back rim and Drexel couldn’t get the rebound.
It will be the third trip to the NIT semifinals for UMass.
“We’re excited to go to New York City,” Kellogg said. “We’re looking forward to playing. The greatest thing is these guys want to play. It’s been fun.”
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