Four Atlantic 10 teams earned at-large berths to the National Invitation Tournament, but UMass finds themselves as the lone representative after the first set games. The sixth-seeded Minutemen outlasted (3) Mississippi State 101-96 in Starksville, Mississippi Tuesday, while (2) St. Joseph's and (3) LaSalle lost on their home floors and (2) Dayton fell at Iowa.
UMass (23-11) will look carry the Atlantic 10 standard to New Jersey Saturday when they play (1) Seton Hall (21-12) at the Walsh Gymnasium at 11 a.m. EDT. (TV: ESPN, Radio: UMass Sports Network)
This will be the fifth time the Minutemen and Seton Hall have played, with the two teams each winning twice. While Seton Hall claimed double-digit victories in 2009 and 2010, the Minutemen have won the only postseason game between the two teams, with an 86-85 victory in the 1977 NIT.
The Minutemen are coming off their highest scoring performance of the season, in a game which they looked like they would run away with in regulation. Chaz Williams and company led by 10 or more for for more than 20 minutes, before a 12-0 Mississippi State run, gave the Bulldogs a brief lead. The teams would go back and forth for the final five minutes of regulation, the first overtime and the first two minutes of the second extra frame, before UMass finally pulled away.
Williams led he Minutemen with 28 points, eight rebounds and six assists, while two big men finished with double-doubles. Senior Sean Carter poured in 20 minutes and 12 rebounds and sophomore Raphiael Putney chipped in with 10 points and a career-high 16 rebounds for the Minutemen.
Seton Hall is coming off a thrilling victory of their own, after they held off (8) Stony Brook 63-61 on Tuesday. Senior Jordan Theodore (21 points) and Herb Pope (20 points and nine rebounds) helped the Pirates snap an 11-game NIT losing streak. The Pirates struggled to shrug off the Seawolves in that one, as the America East Champions had a chance to win the game and a chance to tie it at the buzzer in the final seconds.
The pair of seniors are the unquestioned leaders of a Seton Hall team who were one of the last teams to fall off the bubble. Theodore leads the team with 16.1 points and 6.7 assists per game and also shoots an impressive 83.1 percent from the free throw line. His 6.7 assists is good for eight in the nation, two spots ahead of Williams.
Pope is a big body who can wreak havoc down low. He averages a double-double with 15.3 points and a team-high 10.3 rebounds which is good for 16th in the nation. Sophomore guard Fuquan Edwin is the final player to average double figures, as he chips in with 12.2 points per game, to go along with nation-high 100 steals in 33 games.
The winner of this game will play the winner of (3) Drexel and (7) Northern Iowa on Tuesday for a chance to go to the NIT Semifinals at Madison Square Garden.