PRINGFIELD -- The University of Massachusestts had Holy Cross on the ropes all night, but couldn't deliver the knockout punch.
Instead, the Minutemen, playing without their leading scorer, Harper Williams, settled for an 81-66 technical knockout of the Crusaders in the opening round of the Abdow's Hall of Fame Classic at the Civic Center.
UMass will be matched with South Carolina, a 75-68 winner over Alabama- Birmingham, in tonight's championship game.
Williams, last year's Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, suffered a fractured fourth metacarpal of his right hand while diving for a ball in practice Saturday. He will wear a hard cast for 7-10 days and is expected to miss at least 4-5 weeks.
With Williams on the sidelines 6-foot-6-inch senior Tony Barbee upped the tempo of his game and scored a season-high 24 points on 8-of-15 shooting. He also picked up the slack on the boards with eight defensive rebounds.
"I knew with Harper out, that I had to play with more intensity," said Barbee. "We were wondering about our bench all year. They came through all right tonight."
UMass had three other players in double figures, led by Mike Williams, who had 18 off the bench. Lou Roe added 15 and Jerome Malloy 14.
Frank Powell (19) and Bill Walker (17) powered the Holy Cross attack.
This game looked over early when poor Holy Cross shooting and a tenacious UMass defense opened leads of between 15-17 points for the Minutemen 12 minutes into the game. Barbee settled things from the beginning by scoring the first 8 UMass points en route to an 8-1 lead.
Holy Cross pulled to within 6 (36-30) at 16:56 of the first half, but a 9-0 UMass spurt, 7 coming from Roe, opened a 45-30 lead in the space of less than three minutes. At one point in the first half, Holy Cross had nine misses and two turnovers in 11 trips down the floor.
Pesky Holy Cross fell behind again by 17 in the second half, but twice cut the deficit to 11 on brilliant shooting by Walker. UMass kept the lead at a consistent 13-15 points most of the second half.
"It's real hard to play against a good team when you don't react to its defense," said Holy Cross coach George Blaney. "We didn't react in the first 10 minutes and that was the game. We cut it down to 6, but UMass called a timeout and came out again and played patient defense."
Holy Cross (4-2) shot just 30 percent in the first half and 42 percent overall (23 of 55).
"That defensive intensity you saw out there in the first half was the way we played last year," said UMass coach John Calipari, whose team stands 3-2. ''If we don't play like that, we can't win. We played together for the first time in a long time tonight. I think we played with fear with Harper out. Holy Cross is a good team. We had them in trouble often, but it just wouldn't go away."
UMass shot 50 percent for the first time this season (30 of 60) and had more assists (17) than turnovers (14), also for the first time.
Regarding the Williams injury, Calipari said his situation will be assessed in 4-5 weeks. "We'll see where he is down the road, but if he comes back late in the season do we play him for a few games or do we decide to redshirt him and give him another year? If he plays one more game, we can't do that. The decision will be his entirely."