Minutemen outlast Harvard in morning nail-biter
UMass redshirt junior guard Chaz Williams, right, drives against Laurent Rivard of Harvard in the second half of the Minutemen's 67-64 season-opening win over the Crimson on Tuesday morning at the Mullins Center.
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UMass redshirt junior forward Raphiael Putney, right, deflects a lay up attempted by Wesley Saunders of Harvard in the second half of the Minutemen's 67-64 season-opening over the Crimson on Tuesday morning at the Mullins Center.
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AMHERST — Just in the nick of time, Sampson Carter shook off a year’s worth of inactivity and a morning’s worth of ineffectiveness to deliver the biggest shot of Tuesday’s UMass basketball season opener.
Left alone on the left wing as Harvard defenders closed in on driving point guard Chaz Williams, Carter took Williams’ feed from under the basket and drained a three-pointer with 1.2 seconds left to snap a 64-64 tie. That capped off an 8-0 UMass run over the final 1:21, enabling the Minutemen to escape the Mullins Center with a 67-64 victory over the Crimson.
Carter, a 6-8 senior who missed all but seven games last season with a hip injury, had played eight minutes Tuesday without scoring. As a three-point threat, Carter is well down the Minutemen’s list of options — hitting 16-of-83 (19 percent) from deep over his first three seasons — but he and his teammates had no doubt his last-second trey would drop.
“When I saw Chaz go baseline, and my man covered him, I knew I was getting (the ball),” said Carter. “It’s something we work on. I knew to slide to the corner. To come out today and get in foul trouble and not score until that moment, it was kind of frustrating. I just had to fight through it.”
Jesse Morgan led the Minutemen (1-0) with a game-high 19 points, and kick-started the Minutemen’s late rally.
Wesley Saunders (18 points) made two free throws for Harvard with 1:21 to go to put the Crimson ahead 64-59, but Morgan answered with a jumper in the lane nine seconds later to make it a three-point game. UMass called a timeout and Morgan forced a five-second violation against Saunders, giving the Minutemen the ball at the 44.9-second mark.
Morgan then stuck a deep three-pointer from five feet behind the arc, lifting UMass into a 64-64 tie with 38.8 seconds to play. After an officials’ timeout to reset the game clock, Williams applied the defensive pressure against Harvard’s Christian Webster, who lost the ball on the sideline near the Harvard bench for a turnover.
Williams then dribbled out most of the last 28 seconds before attacking the rim, drawing the defense and finding Carter on the left for the game-winner.
“You never know who’s going to have the shot. It happened to go Sampson’s way, and I just knew he was going to hit it,” said Williams, who ended with 12 points and 10 assists. “I had all the confidence in passing him the ball.”
The 10 a.m. matinee before 3,874 at the Mullins Center came about as part of ESPN’s 24-hour basketball marathon, and the early hour didn’t seem to hamper the Minutemen at the start. UMass took the lead on Raphiael Putney’s three-pointer 1:22 in, and eventually led by as many as 10 points on three separate occasions, the last at 33-23 with 3:46 left in the first half.
Harvard (1-1) hit back with a 9-1 run to close the half, with seven points by Webster. His falling-down three-pointer just before the buzzer pulled the Crimson to within one at the break, 38-37.
Kenyatta Smith scored inside for Harvard to begin the second half, giving the visitors their first lead of the day at 39-38, but UMass slowly built the lead back to six, 54-48, on Cady Lalanne’s basket with 11:22 to play. The Minutemen then went scoreless for over five minutes as Harvard ran off eight in a row, a run stopped by Morgan with a steal and layup.
Putney (13 points) knocked down a trey for a 59-57 UMass lead with 5:19 to go, but again the Minutemen went cold and Harvard scored the next seven points to take its late five-point advantage.
Lalanne had nine points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots for the Minutemen. UMass shot 39 percent from the floor to Harvard’s 37 percent, but the Crimson cleaned up at the foul line with a 22-for-26 day to UMass’ 10-for-14.
“Hopefully I’m going to chalk it up to first-game jitters, because it looked like we were trying to score so fast, so quick, ” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg. “They scrapped to the end. It’s only fitting that Sampson Carter knocks down the three after not playing for a long, long time, and not knowing if he was going to play this year with his injury.”
The two teams had not met since Dec. 27, 1991, a 98-63 UMass victory in the Abdow’s Hall of Fame Holiday Classic played in Springfield.
The Minutemen took a late-afternoon flight Tuesday to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where they’ll play three games in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament, starting tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. against Providence and continuing with games Friday and Sunday.