Game #9-024: Harvard at Massachusetts MinutemenNovember 13, 2012 10:00 am
AMHERST, Mass. - I don't deal well with traffic, which is to say that I don't deal with it at all, so most days I'm posthumously pleased that my job starts as early as it does (and therefore gets out early comparatively as well).
With a 10 a.m. tipoff and about a 90-minute drive for a very intriguing Harvard-UMass early-season game, I figured three hours was plenty. It was enough, if not plenty, as I finally got into the Mullins Center at approximately 9:45 after dealing with rush-hour shenanigans in both Hartford and Springfield.
As I turned off the exit for the (fairly extensive, it must be said) UMass campus, there was a slight panic. The line of cars stopped traffic, pushing it back onto the highway, and I hadn't yet bought a ticket. Did UMass promote this game so well that the Mullins Center was going to be sold out? How long is it going to take me to get there at this rate?
The panic only lasted a couple of moments, as I quickly realized that most people weren't actually going the way I was, they were just doing what they do every Tuesday morning, oblivious to the fact that this was ESPN Day and there was a big college basketball game taking place down the street.
Someone gave me a bargain basement ticket for $5, and I was in the Mullins Center to see it indeed was empty, with the exception of a hearty student section who made the noble sacrifice of skipping class to be at this game.
(Side note: I always seem to be in the position of defending fans from the Northeast against fans from other sections of the country, most notably the Midwest. There's not much of a comparison, really, most of the time. But we'll save that one for another day, perhaps when I actually visit the Midwest in February.)
As I sat waiting for tipoff, I thought how many people I passed or saw on the road on the way here, and how many of them actually knew that this game was going on today? How many of them cared? It can be pretty frustrating to think of it that way, can't it? We're just a little speck of dust in the wind, as the guys from Kansas taught Bill and Ted, who in turn passed that knowledge onto Socrates (pronounced SO-crates)
Regardless, it doesn't take much to get UMass point guard Chaz Williams fired up. Williams is not only one of the best mid-major point guards out there, but will always give you bang for your buck, and early on, he was buzzing was an assist and a ridiculous layup that 5-foot-9 guys learn to make on the playground to survive.
About that time, my completely empty section became entirely full. The smart PR people in UMass athletics figured out if ESPN told them they were going to play at 10 a.m., they might as well invite some schools to join in the fun. It's common to see it in minor league sports, most hockey and baseball teams actually schedule a couple of mid-week morning games, which have proven surprisingly successful in drawing schools that are looking for a cheap field trip.
A few hundred students took the rows in front of me. Normally, I'd move, there was plenty of room to, and while I don't mind kids, I wanted to watch Chaz Williams and a UMass team that's getting some hype against the reigning Ivy League champions who may or may not take a big step back this season, depending on who you talk to.
However, I stayed, and I watched the game with one eye and the children (and their teachers) with the other. There were those (and most of them were between 10 and 12 years old) that sat in the front and were enthralled by the action, cheering Williams and his teammates on like the biggest of diehards in the student section. And then there were those who sat in the back and barely even watched, content to flirt with members of the opposite gender or talk about what their favorite television shows were.
On the court, UMass and its pressure threatened to create a big gap between themselves and the new-look Crimson, but - as might be a theme all year here - they just couldn't sustain the tempo that gave them a 26-17 lead with eight minutes left in the first half. Williams was being matched by an unflappable kid from Minnesota playing just his second collegiate game. If you're an Ivy League fan, you'd better learn to spell the name Siyani Chambers, as he sparked a late Harvard run that allowed them to climb within 38-37 at the intermission in a game they never led.
Halftime was lunch time for our special young guests, and the teachers did their best to hand out the correct food to the correct people. But they were hurt in their efforts by the pesky ESPN (and in-house scoreboard) cameras who made their way into the crowd and sent the kids scurrying for the couple of seconds of national television time that we all crave in this world.
Oh, and Gangnam Style, which many of them could perform remarkably well. Too well, if you ask me. If you have ever spent any time in a middle school, you could appreciate what a tune like Gangnam Style or a few television cameras will do to an attention span of a kid that age.
Obliterate it. Done.
As the second half commenced, and Harvard continued to hang tough despite the UMass pressure, some students actually made their way behind me to yell at students that were still in the section in front. The teachers let that go for a couple of minutes (they were still in sight), but decided as the second half reached the midway point, they should probably put a stop to it.
Meanwhile, two free throws by Chambers and a beautiful assist on a Wesley Saunders (who also had a solid game) contested layup finally put Harvard on top, 56-54 with 6:38 to go. As seems to be an epidemic for up-tempo teams, UMass suddenly got tight and could do nothing in a half-court offense, going through one stretch of six consecutive missed shots and two turnovers.
The Minutemen have a plethora of athletic talent in Williams, shooting guard Jesse Morgan, lanky Raphiael Putney (who can shoot with anyone), and two forces down low in Cady Lalanne and Terrell Vinson, but - as with Iona on Opening Day - they seemed to collectively constrict movements and make easy shots difficult.
A Morgan steal and layup followed by a Putney #superhoop
temporarily stopped the bleeding, but at the final media time out with 3:32 left, upset-minded Harvard held a 60-59 lead.
As the teams came out of that break, the people at UMass decided to put "SCREAM" up on the scoreboard, and you don't have to ask teenagers twice to do that. Unfortunately, the Minutemen were on offense, and while you can't argue direct cause, Vinson missed one of those seemingly routine shots and compounded his error by fouling on the rebound.
Harvard's lead was 64-61 with 1:20 left and they had the ball coming out of another time out when the UMass student section - sensing the urgency - got to its loudest decibel level of the morning (yes, that's correct).
By now, the diehards among the middle schoolers also sensed the urgency and joined in, but - perhaps giving into peer pressure of some sort - most of the rest did as well. UMass forced a five-second call out of Saunders and Morgan rose up to drill a game-tying three-pointer with 38.5 seconds left to tie the game at 64 and send everyone into a frenzy.
The Minutemen forced another mistake 10 seconds later, and were able to hold for the last shot. With everyone on their feet, Williams drove, seemed out of control, but found a wide open Sampson Carter in the left corner.
Carter was inserted for his shooting ability, but the junior missed most of last season with a hip injury and hadn't actually scored in a game since last November.
Swish. Of course.
UMass had grabbed what would very well should have been one of those "bad losses" on their March resume and turned it into an uplifting start as they embark on a fairly challenging non-conference schedule. And the Atlantic-10 (14? 16? 22?) is no joke this year. Take a look when you get a chance.
As for our middle schoolers, while they were fully enthralled by the buzzer beater, they quickly went back to gossiping and worrying about food. UMass was nice enough to let all the schools that attended come down to the court for a nice picture, they got back into their yellow school buses, and a return to reality, i.e. school.
Would they become college basketball fans because of this? I'd like to think so, but I tend to live in the same fantasy world that you do. But maybe it reached a couple of them.
With some time to kill, and a rare chance to see a campus in action after a game, I decided to tour the UMass campus, your basic state school with 21,000+ undergraduates, but some beautiful scenery, even on a raw November afternoon.
As the thousands of students marshaled themselves from Point A to Point B, I asked the same question I started the day with: How many of them even realized that such an exciting basketball game had just happened on their own campus? Surely more than on the morning commute, but -looking at the faces and listening to the conversations - probably not as many as you would think.
Should that discourage us? Not really.
With a second game of the day coming up, I sit here typing this report at the Public Library in Palmer, Mass., which just happened to be on the road between Amherst and Storrs. There are probably 20 people here, more than half senior citizens. They might be basketball fans, might not. I'm sitting near two people looking for Stephen King books, they're probably not (although you never know).
But in the immortal words of Norman Dale, a dear friend of the Hickory Picket Fences, "I hope you will root for who we are, not for who we are not."
There may not be many who root for us here at the Mid-majority, but we certainly appreciate them. And if they keep reading, it doesn't matter what the hit count says at the end of the day, in my book, we're going to be winners. at MASSACHUSETTS 67, HARVARD 64
HARVARD 1-1 (0-0) -- S. Chambers 3-8 7-8 14; W. Saunders 4-12 10-11 18; C. Webster 3-6 2-2 10; L. Rivard 2-6 0-0 5; S. Moundou-Missi 1-8 2-2 4; K. Smith 4-7 0-0 8; J. Travis 2-4 1-1 5; A. Okolie 0-0 0-2 0. Totals 19-51 22-26 64.
MASSACHUSETTS 1-0 (0-0) -- C. Williams 6-15 0-1 12; R. Putney 4-6 3-3 13; C. Lalanne 3-7 3-4 9; J. Morgan 7-18 3-4 19; T. Vinson 3-9 1-2 8; F. Riley 0-2 0-0 0; M. Esho 1-5 0-0 3; S. Carter 1-3 0-0 3; T. Davis 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-65 10-14 67.
Three-point goals: HARV 4-11 (C. Webster 2-3; L. Rivard 1-4; W. Saunders 0-2; S. Chambers 1-2), MASS 7-21 (S. Carter 1-1; R. Putney 2-4; F. Riley 0-2; T. Vinson 1-3; C. Williams 0-2; M. Esho 1-1; J. Morgan 2-8); Rebounds: HARV 28 (S. Moundou-Missi 9), MASS 33 (C. Lalanne 13); Assists: HARV 13 (S. Chambers 7), MASS 15 (C. Williams 10); Total Fouls -- HARV 15, MASS 22; Fouled Out: HARV-None; MASS-T. Vinson.