Game #9-295: Massachusetts Minutemen at Miami (Oh.) RedhawksJanuary 2, 2013 7:00 pm
The road to Oxford, Ohio has many different routes, none of which are ideal. Each path is more or less equidistant from my residence in Dayton, but the time varies wildly. Instead of a rigorous plan of action, the GPS acts as more of a guide, illuminating a potential path that will be entirely rewritten by an incorrect maneuver. A driver is able to improvise with the form of a great jazz musician and find that he gained five critical minutes. Similarly, one wrong note can result in ten minutes of bypass-style runaround. My personal best time is 40 minutes. My personal worst is 90.
I had left work in a flurry at 6 p.m. with the hopes of catching a potential tournament team in UMass for the first time. Midweek road trips are usually exciting, but not when you're going to Oxford and not when you're late. While an hour seemed like it was enough transit time, I was almost certain it was not enough time to do everything else - arrive, park, run around Millett Hall to the front entrance (the side entrance facing the parking lot is for ticketed fans only), buy tickets and sit down.
So my girlfriend and I took off Smokey and the Bandit style, racing down state highways and experiencing the stomach dropping thrills that can only come from hilly two-lane highways (OH-732 north of Oxford is brutal). These roads also seem to hold an inherent desolation and despair about them that implies that your destination is still unfathomably far away. Coupled with my gastric backflips and preexisting stress about arrival time, I was not in a good mood when we made it with ten minutes to spare.
We walked in the aforementioned front entrance of the building, and were immediately floored to discover that our ticket choices were $18 or $20 seats. I don't expect every institution to be as wallet friendly as Lehigh
, but the priciest ticket I've purchased amongst the Other 24 this season was decidedly disappointing. Ticket in hand and a scowl on my face, we strode through arena and sat in the first acceptable unoccupied seats, as our unreasonably overpriced tickets were somewhere in the corner of an arena that seats 6,400 and is lucky to draw 1,500.
Of course, basketball is great therapy for the upset sports fan, and once the game began I found my happy place. The Minutemen seemed to be in control for much of the first half, but didn't look like the tournament team many hoops soothsayers had expected before the season. Miami stuck around in the fashion that an overmatched home team tends to do, before succumbing to a 15-6 UMass run to close the half.
Halftime afforded me a chance to bitterly reflect once more on the ticket cost, until the PA crackled to life and the announcer invited me to the next home game against the Huskies of Northern Illinois, a MAC opponent. Ordinarily this would be nothing, but this night it signaled the annual January sea change from the nonconference season to conference play.
When I was young, one of my favorite travel pastimes involved sampling strange regional sodas that were unobtainable in Michigan. Like a microbrew swilling hipster, I'd be sure to sample anything obscure or unfamiliar just to say that I tried it. Not that I didn't love Vernors, mind you, but the taste sensations of Cheerwine, Ale 8, and Manzanita Sol thrilled me to no end. I didn't know when I'd be able to try them again, and so I would savor each luxurious sip like it was my last.
This game would be my final nonconference tilt of the season, or at least until BracketBusters. I figured I should be spending the next twenty minutes savoring the Cheerwine, not grumbling about the second mortgage I had to take out to get in the door. And although the second half may not have approached visual poetry, it was entertaining enough for me to savor each magnificent play. The Minutemen's beanpole wing Raphiael Putney, considered to be in a slump by some members of the Amherst media, broke out of it with a 20 point, 9 rebound, 3 steal effort. Unfortunately, no other UMass player seemed able to support him when he needed it, and Miami stayed firmly in the thick of things despite being outrebounded by a much taller team (UMass ranks 51st in KenPom's effective height; Miami clocks in at a mere 212th).
I would have gotten sentimental as the endgame approached, perhaps turning to my girlfriend and remarking about how the close of the nonconference schedule means the variety would all but disappear from my season. Luckily, I was too absorbed in the contest. Raphiael Putney finally got his support with 1:12 remaining, as point guard Chaz Williams swished a floater to put UMass ahead, 70-69. It was an ugly little shot, one that seemed destined to be an air ball when it left his hand. However, there was beauty to be found in its roughness and mastery in its execution. Of course, a great deal of cosmic luck was also involved, but the fates are far less romantic. Miami proved this in the next 72 seconds, enjoying an opportunity to tie it at the line with less than a minute remaining, and a disjointed look at the rim as time expired. They were unable to convert on either. The Minutemen escaped without a resume staining loss, and Miami missed a chance to head into conference play with momentum.
The unfamiliar flavor of UMass basketball still tickled my tongue as we left; that last remaining swig of a strange soda that stays for a moment but fades all too quickly. My remaining season would be dominated by familiar foes in familiar venues, but for one last night I savored the joy of nonconference play. Like an unironic Black Francis, I'll have the University of Massachusetts, please.
MASSACHUSETTS 70, at MIAMI (OH.) 69
MASSACHUSETTS 9-3 (0-0) -- C. Williams 4-9 0-0 10; J. Morgan 5-18 0-0 12; S. Carter 1-5 1-1 3; R. Putney 8-19 0-0 20; T. Vinson 3-6 0-1 6; F. Riley 2-5 0-0 6; M. Esho 2-3 1-2 5; C. Lalanne 0-1 1-2 1; T. Davis 2-3 2-2 7. Totals 27-69 5-8 70.
MIAMI (OH.) 5-7 (0-0) -- Q. Rollins 1-5 3-5 5; A. Roberts 7-15 2-2 21; W. Sullivan 3-7 1-2 8; W. Felder 4-7 2-2 10; R. Johnson 3-7 0-1 6; J. Harris 1-6 0-0 3; G. McKnight 2-8 2-2 6; D. McGhee 5-6 0-0 10. Totals 26-61 10-14 69.
Three-point goals: MASS 11-33 (S. Carter 0-2; R. Putney 4-10; F. Riley 2-5; T. Vinson 0-3; C. Williams 2-2; J. Morgan 2-10; T. Davis 1-1), MIO 7-25 (A. Roberts 5-9; W. Felder 0-1; J. Harris 1-6; W. Sullivan 1-3; R. Johnson 0-4; G. McKnight 0-2); Rebounds: MASS 46 (M. Esho 9), MIO 29 (W. Sullivan 7); Assists: MASS 19 (C. Williams 9), MIO 12 (Q. Rollins 4); Total Fouls -- MASS 14, MIO 13; Fouled Out: MASS-None; MIO-None.