It might not have been the NCAA Tournament but No. 5 seed UMass and No. 4 seed Mississippi State provided almost everything a postseason game should have: star power, momentum shifts and clutch shots. The game may have been missing some defense on both sides, thanks to the Bulldogs' struggles to come to the grips with their invitation to the NIT, rather than the Big Dance, but the team's more than made up for it in the end.
UMass (23-11) used their hustle on the boards and a huge game from Chaz Williams to end Mississippi State's season (21-12) on their home floor by a 101-96 score in double overtime. Williams poured in 28 points on 11-of-20 shooting and added eight rebounds and a team-high six assists, despite being banged up. The speedy sophomore point guard extended his left leg awkwardly late in the second half when coming down with a rebound but stayed in the game to lead the Minutemen.
Senior center Sean Carter finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds to record one of two double-doubles on the night for the Minutemen. Raphiael Putney added 10 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, before fouling out late in regulation. The pair combined with junior forwards Terrell Vinson and Javorn Farrell to score 58 points and 33 rebounds, against a Mississippi State frontline that was headlined by All SEC First Team member Arnett Moultrie and volatile center Renardo Sidney.
Moultrie was unstoppable when driving to the lane, finishing with a game-high 34 points on 12-of-23 shooting. After knocking down two 3-pointers in the first half to go along with five dunks for 18 points in the first half, Moultrie dominated the Minutemen when in the lane, but also attempted and missed three 3-pointers.
Senior guard Dee Bost was able to spark the Bulldogs though, with 13 of his 20 points coming in the second half. Bost and sophomore guard Jalen Steele (17 points) knocked down eight of the team's 12 3-pointers, to help the Bulldogs even force the two overtime sessions.
UMass controlled the boards with a 51-38 advantage, including a 19-10 edge on the offensive boards and 6-2 lead in the final overtime frame. The Minutemen shot 39-of-90 (43.3 percent) from the field and and 32.1 percent (9-of-28) from behind the arc, while the Bulldogs connected on 42.7 percent (32-of-75) and 12-of-31 (38.7) from behind the 3-point line.
The 101 points were the most points UMass had scored all season long.
The Minutemen jumped out to an 8-0 edge and led for nearly the entire game, with Mississippi State only holding a lead for four of the 50 minutes. Derek Kellogg's squad held a double-digit lead for large stretches in the first half and second half before Mississippi State used a 17-4 run behind Bost to take a 63-62 lead with 7:57 to play. While the two team's would struggle to score over the next three minutes (three combined points), the quiet spell set up what turned out to be three consecutive best of five minute stretches.
After UMass went on a 5-1 run to grab a 70-66 lead with 3:17 to play in regulations, Moultrie scored six points over the next three minutes to tie the game at 72 with :41 seconds to play. The Minutemen thought they had a winner with under five seconds to play when Carter put back a Williams missed layup, but the referees correctly whistled the Minutemen for a shot clock violation, as the Williams layup just missed the rim on it's way down. Bost would get a final look, but his running layin was off the mark.
Mississippi State looked like they might run away in the opening possessions of the first overtime but their suspect defense kept UMass alive. Rodney Hood and Stelle connected on consecutive threes for the Bulldogs to give them a 78-72 lead but Farrell and sophomore guard Jesse Morgan added two of their own for the Minutemen to tie the game at 80. Both teams connected on a flurry of free throws, with the Minutemen coming away with a 90-87 lead with 35 seconds to play.
But Steele had another answer. The sophomore drained a long three off a screen to tie the game at 90 and Williams' game-winner fell off the front rim, to send the game to a second extra session.
Williams and Carter finally knocked the Bulldogs off with seven quick points in the final overtime to give UMass a 97-92 lead with three minutes left. Mississippi State would cut it to a single possession twice, but a Vinson tipin was more than enough.
UMass will travel to New Jersey to take on top-seeded Seton Hall, after the Pirates held off Stony Brook 63-61. The date and time of the game are still to be announced.
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