he last time the University of Massachusetts went to the National Invitation Tournament was in 1977, its sixth appearance of that decade. UMass beat Seton Hall before being knocked out by Villanova.
It's been a long wait, but UMass is back in the NIT and will play Maryland (18-13) in the first round tonight at 8 in College Park, Md.
This has been a season of several firsts for UMass, which is 17-13. The Minutemen won 10 games in the Atlantic 10 for the first time and surprised everyone when they made it to the league's championship game for the first time, losing to Temple, 53-51, a week ago.
Second-year coach John Calipari has led UMass to its first winning season in more than a decade (1977-78, when the team finished 15-12), and his squad is scrappy, hungry and young.
The team is expected to start two freshmen, two sophomores and a senior against Gary Williams' Terrapins.
Sophomore guard Jim McCoy leads UMass in scoring, averaging 20.6 points per game, and sophomore forward William Herndon, a transfer from Richmond, averages 15.4.
Freshman forward Tony Barbee (11.2 ppg), senior guard Cary Herer (3.7) and freshman center Harper Williams (8.6 ppg, 5.3 rebounds per game) round out the probable starting slate.
Maryland is led by sophomore forward Jerrod Mustaf (18.2 ppg) and senior center Tony Massenburg (17.7).
In first-round action last night, DeRon Hayes scored 4 of Penn State's final 5 points in a 57-54 victory over Marquette at State College, Pa. . . . Tank Collins scored 15 of his 18 points in the first half and New Orleans held off James Madison, 78-74, at Harrisonburg, Va. . . . Tennessee tipped host Memphis State, 73-71.
OLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The University of Maryland started out disappointed and the University of Massachusetts started out scared, and when it all ended, the Terrapins won the battle of emotions, 91-81, last night in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament at Cole Field House in front of 5,142 fans.
Coach Gary Williams and his Terrapins were upset that they didn't make the NCAA Tournament, and coach John Calipari's Minutemen feared Maryland.
While emotion played a role, it was sophomore forward Jerrod Mustaf who turned the game around in the second half after the Terrapins (19-13) held a 42-40 lead at the break.
Mustaf, who scored 18 of his 23 points in the second half, started the run with 6:30 left when he buried a turnaround jumper, giving Maryland a 70-67 lead. UMass (17-14) countered with two free throws from Tony Barbee, but Mustaf hit two more turnarounds, giving Maryland a 74-69 edge with 5:49 remaining.
The game, which had been a foul-filled roller coaster throughout, turned the Terrapins' way for good when UMass freshman forward Harper Williams fouled out with 4:48 left. Williams mumbled something as he walked by the official on the way to the bench and was whistled for a technical foul.
Mustaf hit all four free throws, giving Maryland a comfortable lead, 78-69. When UMass guard Jim McCoy committed his fourth personal with 4:34 left, Teyon McCoy hit both ends of the one-and-one, putting the game out of reach.
"We had to play without any emotion, which was a tough thing for us to have to do because we are a pretty emotional team," said Williams, the former Boston College coach. "It wasn't there last night, and we had to gut it out. It was a tough thing for us. We thought we played our way into the NCAA Tournament and we didn't get in. I wanted them to feel disappointed, but I thought we'd be over it by game time."
Calipari's team had its own emotional struggle in getting up for the game, but it stemmed from too much respect for its opponent.
"I am happy with my kids," said the second-year coach. "I was hard on them, but you have to understand, they started the game scared to death. That's why I was jumping all over them. I wanted them to be more afraid of me than of the game. They started by giving Maryland too much credit."
UMass seemed to get over it quickly. The Minutemen fought Maryland tooth and nail in the first half, matching the home team virtually basket for basket.
But by halftime, Maryland's swarming defense had two UMass players, Barbee and William Herndon, in trouble with three fouls each. There were 55 fouls called in the game.
UMass, which was led by McCoy's 22 points, didn't back down, keeping the game close until Mustaf took things into his own hands. But Calipari felt the official's hands also played a role.
"The technical was the turning point," said Calipari. "I was disappointed that it was called, but that was the guy's prerogative. If he wants to call that and play a part in the game, he can do that."