Assistant coach versus former player, head coach versus graduate-assistant coach, mentor versus mentee: all three descriptions fit the relationship between former UMass head coach and current Drexel bench boss Bruiser Flint and UMass head coach Derek Kellogg. On Tuesday, the two men will go head to head for the first time with their team's season's on the line.
Eleven years after leaving Amherst, Flint will face his former team and friend, when the (3) Drexel Dragons (29-6) host (5) UMass (24-11) Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. with a spot in the NIT semifinals and a trip to Madison Square Garden at stake. (TV: ESPN / Radio: UMass Sports Network)
After several down years with their respective schools, both coaches are having their best seasons to date, as they lead their teams into the NIT Elite Eight. While Drexel narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament, the Dragons have won 26 games, the most ever in Flint's 16 years of coaching, and made it farther than any other Drexel team under Flint. On the other side, UMass is making their first postseason appearance under Kellogg in his four years and this year's roster is already tied for sixth on the all-time program list for wins.
UMass will be making their third trip to the NIT Quarterfinals, with wins in both prior appearances. Just five years ago, the Minutemen went all the way to the NIT Championship Game before falling to Ohio State. During that run, UMass overcame a 22-point deficit with 14:34 remaining to defeat Syracuse at the Carrier Dome in the NIT Quarterfinals to advance to the NIT Final Four.
The Minutemen already own two upsets in the first two rounds, with road wins over (4) Mississippi State and (1) Seton Hall. On Saturday, UMass used back-to-back three-pointers from Terrell Vinson and Chaz Williams to put away Seton Hall in a 77-67 thriller.
Williams finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists Saturday to move closer to two milestones. The redshirt sophomore point guard finished in double-digits for the 33rd time this season, and 49th time in his career in just 55 games. More impressively, Williams's 224 assists this season places him 14 assists shy of second-place all-time in a single season for a Minuteman.
While Williams is the ringleader and has received the spotlight all season, the Minutemen boast a talented roster that can run with anyone, or run other teams off the floor. Center Sean Carter is the lone UMass senior, and he's posted back-to-back doubles in the postseason after averaging 8.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game during the season. Sophomores Jesse Morgan and Raphiael Putney have become the second- and third-leading scorers at over 10 points per game, and junior Terrell Vinson has been the glue on both ends of the floor that has kept UMass afloat when other teams make big runs.
While UMass was a bit of a surprise in the Atlantic 10, Drexel was projected as the preseason favorite in the Colonial Athletic Association and lived up to that billing. The Dragons earned the number-one overall seed in the CAA Tournament after going 16-2 in league play, and Drexel easily advanced to the league's championship game. Unfortunately for the Dragons, they faced a familiar foe in VCU and saw their NCAA bubble break for the second year in a row at the hands of the Rams (59-56).
Drexel stayed perfect at the Daskalakis Center on Sunday when they downed (6) Northern Iowa 65-63 behind a game-high 28 points from senior forward Samme Givens. Despite holding an 18-point lead at one point, the Dragons had to withstand a Northern Iowa missed three-pointer at the buzzer to advance. With the win, Drexel moved to 15-0 at home this season, to go along with their 27-2 streak since early December.
The Dragons feature four players who are averaging double-figure points with sophomore guard Franz Massenat (13.7 ppg) and freshmen Damion Lee (12.2 ppg) leading the way. Massenat not only leads the team in scoring but also paces the team with 4.68 assists per game. Givens, who happens to be Drexel's lone senior, averages 11.6 points and a team-high 7.8 rebounds per game.
Tuesday's matchup could come down to which team manages to dictate the tempo and pace of the contest. UMass is 15th in the nation in scoring offense at 77.5 points per game, while Drexel is fifth in the nation in scoring defense at 55.7 points per game. Either way, the winning coach will carry UMass ties and advance to Madison Square Garden and an NIT Semifinal contest next Tuesday. The opponent will be the winner of Wednesday's contest between Nevada and Stanford/Illinois State.