Well, another weekend, another disappointment for UMass athletics. The 12th-ranked men’s lacrosse team managed to falter on the road to an inferior Yale team, killing any sort of mome…
Hold the phone.
What’s this you’re wharrgarbl-ing on about?
Hockey SWEPT Maine? Basketball BEAT Rhode Island?
….PLAYOFFS? You can talk to me about playoffs, because both teams won a game (and then, in hockey’s case, another game)?!
Okay, so we at Fight Mass will admit, we had higher hopes for both of these teams than “barely sneaking into their conference tourneys on the last day of the season.” Particularly after basketball beat Memphis and looked poised to at least improve on last year’s in-conference performance, and after hockey got up to #9 in the country with the harder half of their schedule seemingly in the rear-view mirror.
Regardless, the Mass Attack took advantage of Scott Darling’s mysterious suspension and roughed up Shawn “The New Wilson” Sirman two nights in a row, then had to withstand the storm of a furious comeback bid by the Black Bears last night, and nearly doubled their all-time Alfond win total in a 26-hour span. The offense woke up again by running through the points, with Justin Braun and Matt Irwin exploding onto the scene in a manner eerily similar to last year’s near-shocker at Matthews Arena. Paul Dainton was magnificent in holding Maine’s potent offense to 5 total goals in two nights. In what can only be described as “Derek being proven triumphantly right,” the defense gelled around the return of Doug Kublin from mono. And Brett Watson of all people provided two more goals.
So yeah, next weekend, UMass gets to return to the Conte Forum, where we’ll likely see the bizarre sight of a noticeable BC student section at home against the Minutemen. The Iggles haven’t played a truly meaningful game in a couple of weeks now and are, naturally, considered the runaway favorites in the series. However, if the Minutemen play as well as they did last weekend, and are able to catch a couple breaks and ride the momentum of this Maine sweep, and Dainton is on his game…okay, that’s a lot of if’s. But “if” is a fun word to toss around when, just a few days ago, things were as grim as they were. There’s hockey yet to be played, and that’s all we can ask for.
Meanwhile, the basketball team (unlike hockey, those bastards) send out the seniors in style, continuing the annual tradition of ruining Rhody’s season. This is the third year in a row; two years back, the Minutemen dragged URI kicking and screaming into the NIT (and then damn near won it). Last year, UMass marched into the Ryan Center and made little Jimmy “Date Rape Baby” Baron cry on his senior day, the game we will always know as the C-Lowe/Matty Glass Game (I could watch that Glass pick on Ulmer every single day until the end of time). And now, the year in which the gap between the teams is the greatest, where URI is a win away from the NCAA Tournament and UMass needs a win just to make the conference tourney in which only 2 of 14 teams miss it, and yet history just continues to repeat itself with these two. If the roles were reversed, I think we might hate URI even more than we hate BC here. And we hate BC a lot.
Honestly, it wasn’t a pretty game. At one point, when the teams were trading fast-break misses back and forth, someone near me likened it to a hockey game, with the near-misses coming fast and furious – only there’s no goalies in basketball, and the scores aren’t supposed to be that few and far between. The officiating — horrendous, but it was bad both ways, and we’re used to that by now. And the thing that struck me the most was that URI really does not have a go-to guy. They’ve got a lot of pretty good players, sure, but they had no answer for Ricky Harris, who woke up in a big way after a just-okay first half. It’s worrisome that the future of this team will bank on someone (Freddie? TV?) stepping up and becoming the new face of the team next year, and although I think that taking the Ricky crutch out of the equation will speed up the process, there’s no doubt that he will be missed. 3rd all time in school history in scoring, no matter how you look at it, is fantastic. Ricky’s the one guy who played for all four of my years at UMass, and for that, I’m certainly grateful.
The URI student section was impressive (although not unexpected given that this is pretty much the only sport they have), but I saw hope for us as well. Sure, a number of kids were coming over from the Rec Center to grab t-shirts and promptly leave, but for the most part, I felt like kids were into it. They should definitely try to schedule more Saturday afternoon games next year if that’s at all possible; this was definitely the best student section of the year even having to compete with the Blarney Blowout over in town, and the end of the game was as loud as I’ve seen the Mullins for basketball in quite some time. Hopefully the kids who came out for this one were sold on this team’s potential and will be more inclined to see more games next year as a result, but, of course, the guys need to win games to attract fans, simple as that.
And so now the Minutemen survive to play Tuesday at Charlotte, a team in freefall mode, and whom UMass owes some revenge from a few years back. At the very least, Ricky gets one more game, and the freshmen get their first taste of playoff basketball together. This can only be a good thing.
Unlike hockey, whose expectations were understandably a lot higher (both at the beginning of the year and, especially, after their stellar first half), basketball’s fate for much of year has been a first-round road game and likely exit from the A-10 Tournament. A strong showing against Charlotte, and especially a first-round shocker (and I can’t stress enough how due this team is to be on the other side of that equation), could do wonders for this team going forward.
And if they lose by 30 in Charlotte? We’ll always have that senior night. Sad to think I will never again set foot in the Mullins Center as a UMass student, but the memories from my tenure here will live forever, and my entry into the alumni club – my graduation to the other side of the arena (not that I won’t be general-admissioning it up and joining the student fray for a few more years, naturally) is an exciting prospect that is just beginning.
So, not to crib that whole “live together, die alone” theme that Rocks has been using lately, but the countdown to the weird red hieroglyphs and the accompanying disaster has been, for the moment, put on hold. UMass typed in the Numbers and hit execute. Now, the road ahead is wrought with challenges. But for at least one more week, there is a road ahead.