Republican: Basketball Comeback Ranks Among Best - UMass Athletics

Republican: Basketball Comeback Ranks Among Best

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In the Springfield Republican, Ron Chimelis has a column on UMass' amazing comeback win over RIder, which saw a 34-point swing as the Minutemen beat the Broncs, 77-67.

The greatest college basketball comeback I ever saw was crafted by the University of Massachusetts on Jan. 27, 1995.

In the last 4 minutes and 48 minutes of regulation at West Virginia, the Minutemen erased an 18-point deficit to win 97-94 in overtime. But coaches live in the present, and Derek Kellogg, who played in that game, did not refer to it when asked to recall a night similar to Friday's amazing opener.

"To have never seen something like this, and be a part of it ...,'' Kellogg said after his team had wiped out a 22-point second half deficit in a 77-67 win over Rider. "The message is clear. We're going to compete. We're not quitters.''

As a comeback victory with meaning, UMass' basketball win Friday ranks with the best

Published: Saturday, November 13, 2010, 1:07 PM     Updated: Saturday, November 13, 2010, 1:31 PM
UMass Men's Basketball vs RiderUMass students found plenty of reason to cheer when the Minutemen rallied to beat Rider at the Mullins Center Friday. photo by J. Anthony Roberts

The greatest college basketball comeback I ever saw was crafted by the University of Massachusetts on Jan. 27, 1995.

In the last 4 minutes and 48 minutes of regulation at West Virginia, the Minutemen erased an 18-point deficit to win 97-94 in overtime. But coaches live in the present, and Derek Kellogg, who played in that game, did not refer to it when asked to recall a night similar to Friday's amazing opener.

"To have never seen something like this, and be a part of it ...,'' Kellogg said after his team had wiped out a 22-point second half deficit in a 77-67 win over Rider.

"The message is clear. We're going to compete. We're not quitters.''

If a case could be made that Friday's rally was not unprecedented, a better case could be made that its significance takes a back seat to none in recent UMass memory.

This opener had the fans ready to head for the exits, holding their noses and watching their language.

Instead, they wound up on their feet, not to leave but to make some noise for a team that got off the floor and gave itself what it had been lacking - an identity.

It is easy to overboard over a win like this, so let's take a quick timeout for a reality check. The opponent was Rider, a middle-of-the-pack team from a mid-major conference.

UMass was at home. And let's not forget that making up 22 points in a dazzling nine-minute stretch was only necessary because UMass had been awful for the first 24.

"We can't go out every night and feel the other team out for a half. But in the second half, each guy fed off the intensity we felt on the floor, '' said Anthony Gurley, who scored 31 points.

Gurley did more smiling in public after this game than he had in three years. He was a senior leader, at ease with the outcome and proud of the tenacity it took to engineer it.

The offense came from Gurley and Freddie Riley, who scored 23 of his 28 points in the second half. On a team that entered the season without defined stars, Riley's eye-popping 3-point shooting figures to add some crowd-pleasing sizzle to the steak.

He looked like a 2010 version - without the baggage - of Mike Williams, whose clutch shooting helped win that 1995 game at West Virginia.

So how does this comeback compare with 1995? Actually, very well.

UMass was a No. 1-ranked team in '95, which might make that win appear much more important.

I don't think so. Win or lose that night, the Minutemen were already wildly popular and headed to the NCAA tournament.

The 2010-11 Minutemen, by contrast, have literally gone door-to-door to meet their fans. They have been pleading for more to pay attention, to believe in them, to care.

How do you think a 20-point opening loss to Rider would have helped that campaign?

"It would not have been a good night to lay an egg,'' Kellogg said.

The other great UMass comeback of recent years came in the 2008 NIT quarterfinals. Trailing by 22 at Syracuse, UMass won 81-77 and went on to the NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden.

That was a road game with a showcase prize to the winner. But it also involved a proven, high-scoring, 25-win UMass team, not a total mystery like this year's team is.

It remains to be seen how often the Minutemen will prevail with 59 of their 77 points coming from two players, as they did Friday. But that's a concern for another day. 

This is not a two-man team. Forward Terrell Vinson, in particular, will have many nights more productive than this one.

But two things, we do know. The Minutemen showed they can be absolutely exciting, even captivating, and they showed they are not quitters.

That's a start. Even if we are still not surre where this team rates, we now know it will be worth paying attention to find out.

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