Well, if there ever was, it was UMass’s game tonight against Fordham. The Minutemen pulled out a 78-76 win on last-second heroics by Ricky Harris, but unlike UMass’s last squeak-by win over Memphis, this one didn’t have the “feel-good” vibe to it. On the contrary, UMass let an absolutely atrocious Fordham team hang around to the last second and nearly suffered what would have to qualify as the program’s worst loss in many, many years. In hockey terms, imagine losing to UConn at home. I’m sorry, I know, it’s a horrible image, and like I said before, you can’t just have it purged. But that’s what it would’ve been like.
I mean, you can look at it like this, Brenton Butler basically caught fire in that 16-3 run, hitting three 3’s, none of which was a remotely intelligent shot to take. Well, that’s all well and good, but the fact that Fordham’s big run came after UMass “broke the game open” to a barely-double-digit lead tells you the big story: namely, that the Minutemen shouldn’t have even been in a position like that, at any point in the game, against a 2-10 squad with an interim coach and with their best player having transferred out less than a month ago. Not remotely acceptable.
I’d like to point at all the positives (Ricky pulling it together in the second half, Gurley’s first half, City’s near double-double, TV’s hustle, Riley’s return), but there are just too many negatives (all the rushed 3’s, City’s dumb fouls and defensive struggles, Gurley’s second half, Gibbsy in general, missed layups, blah blah blah) for anyone to feel good about this game.
But a win is a win is a win, I guess. And if the team shows up on Saturday against La Salle (High School) and plays like this, well, nobody will notice because the game was rather unfortunately scheduled opposite the Pats-Ravens game. But let’s just say that the winning A-10 record won’t stay that way for long.
In other news, I’ve got a new 30 Rock-inspired nickname for Gurley: TGS, or “The Gurley Show.” If he continues to play like he did in the first half tonight, he’ll have earned the moniker; if not for him we’d likely have trailed at halftime.
Big weekend in Hockey East coming up, and an especially-huge four games for UMass and the ugly sister, as Lowell will play the same two teams this weekend, then the two state schools will square off in a home-and-home right before school recommences. Since the Minutemen and River Rats have essentially the same record right now, the weekend will go a long way to determining these two teams’ fates. More on that later, though; first, UMass had better focus on one game at a time, and that means the dreaded visit to the Whitt. If I don’t get to it before Saturday, I’ll definitely write about the aftermath of the UNH game before I head to Boston for the Sunday night showdown at Matthews.
Personally, the UMass version of the Cardiac Kids is taking its toll on my heart this year, but a win is a win is a win. Especially when that win comes against a Union team that came into the game ranked 18th in the nation (and, far more importantly, 14th in the PWR rankings – tied with Yale and above Cornell, Maine, Vermont and Lowell) and which hadn’t lost since before Halloween.
Paul Dainton stood on his head in this one, and we needed it, because the Minutemen came out completely flat in the first two periods (save for a quick spurt in the middle of the second). Ortiz’s latest dumb penalty certainly didn’t help matters when he went off for 5 minutes for hitting the goalie from behind late in the 1st, but he played his ass off to redeem himself later on in the game, including the tying goal early in the 3rd. I also don’t like Toot taking the foot off the gas with what Hennessey and Hines referred to as a “passive forecheck” in the closing minutes, as it led to an extremely anxious final minute in which Dainton basically won the game for us. It was shades of Quinnipiac all over again.
Another concern for me were the lack of production outside the top line, something I thought was coming around with Ortiz’s good stretch to end the first semester, and he did contribute one of the four goals. But that’s still 75% of our offense generated by one line. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with having one of college hockey’s best lines (I like that a helluva lot more than Watson playing with Casey and Jimmy), but it would be great to take some of scoring pressure off of them. Hopefully Ortiz can continue to sizzle and Hobbs can get going again like he was early in the year.
But here’s the bottom line: this was a victory. UMass basically only showed up for one period, but fortunately, Dainton and the defense (and especially the PK) kept it close, and the offense found their rhythm at the end. I’d prefer a more complete effort like the game against Merrimack, but considering Union is a ranked (and likely underrated) squad and you never know what to expect coming off a two-week-plus layoff, you have to be happy with the outcome. Tomorrow’s still basically a must-win as far as getting a non-automatic tourney big is concerned, but hopefully the cobwebs have been shaken off and the boys don’t look past their foe, be it underachieving Bentley or an awful UConn team that would have the energy and momentum of an upset win over said Bentley team.
David Boehm’s also going to miss this tournament for undisclosed disciplinary reasons. Between injuries and disciplinary issues, it’s frustrating to see him sidelined, because he’s shown a lot of promise when he’s been able to contribute. Here’s hoping he bounces back quickly.
Tomorrow night will be a busy night for UMass, with hockey playing the championship game (EDIT: yep, predictably, it’s Bentley. Good, UConn would’ve killed our PWR even in the likely event that we won) and basketball visiting Davidson. I probably won’t be around to give my immediate reactions this time, but I’ll write about those games at some point. In the meantime, enjoy what’s left of 2009. The Winter Classic is just around the bend!