NIT

Coverage from:
The Associated Press - recap
UMass Athletics - notes/quotes
The Daily Hampshire Gazette
The Daily Hampshire Gazette - notebook

Box score

Photo gallery Picture


Massachusetts 78, Florida 66
From The Associated Press, 4/1/2008

NEW YORK (AP)--Dante Milligan made a touching, triumphant return to the arena he practically grew up in, leading Massachusetts into the NIT championship game.

The undersized post player scored 17 points and made several blocks late against Florida, helping the Minutemen defeat the two-time defending NCAA champions 78-66 on Tuesday night.

Gary Forbes scored 19 points, Chris Lowe and Ricky Harris added 16 each, and the starters scored all but two points for the Minutemen, who will play either Ohio State or Mississippi on Thursday night.

UMass (25-10) took its first lead since early in the game when Etienne Brower hit a 3-pointer with 9:49 left. Milligan scored a couple minutes later, then stuffed Walter Hodge at the other end, leading to another 3 from Brower and a 59-51 lead with 7:25 to go.

The Gators (24-12) never could get closer than six the rest of the way, ending a disappointing season with a lackluster finish miles away and far removed from the consecutive titles they won on college basketball's biggest stage.

Marreese Speights had 12 points and a career-high 18 rebounds for Florida, the first defending champ to miss the NCAA tournament since 1989.

Star freshman Nick Calathes added 12 points on just 5-of-19 shooting, and Dan Werner had 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Milligan and his brother, Alonzo, were involved with Boys' Club of New York growing up, and their mentor worked in public relations at Madison Square Garden. Together they spent dozens of nights hanging out in the locker rooms and watching the New York Knicks.

Three years ago, Milligan's brother died in a random shooting in his old East Harlem neighborhood, and the Garden and Knicks established a scholarship fund in Alonzo's honor.

The older brother carries a tattoo on his arm that reads, "Enjoy life today. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow may never come."

He's sure living up to it in the NIT.

He scored a career-high 24 points in the tournament opener against Stephen F. Austin and had 13 to help the Minutemen rally from 22 down with 14:37 left to beat Syracuse in the quarterfinals.

The game was a matchup of coaches who both learned under Rick Pitino at Kentucky, Billy Donovan as an assistant and Travis Ford as the guard who led the Wildcats to the Final Four.

His team was fortunate to be within 36-27 at the break, after a dreadful shooting performance uncharacteristic of the nation's eighth-highest scoring team. The Minutemen were just 1-of-13 from beyond the arc, and after Milligan's putback with 12:08 left, went more than 12 minutes without a field goal.

Florida wasn't much better, though, twice turning the ball over on inbound plays--gaffs more appropriate for November than the first day of April.

Forbes nearly brought the shooting slump to a merciful end with about 3 minutes to go, the ball rolling tantalizingly around the rim before popping out. A minute later he finally scored on a layup, and Massachusetts looked up to see it only trailed 30-25.


Post-game notes & quotes
From UMass Athletics, 4/1/2008

NOTES

UMass is advancing its furthest in postseason in school history as the Minutemen will play for the NIT Championship. Previously, UMass played in the 1996 NCAA Final Four and the 1991 NIT Final Four, but lost in the semifinals each time.

UMass is now 1-0 all-time in games played in April.

UMass is now 4-1 all-time against defending national champions, the Minutemen have defeated North Carolina (1993), Arkansas (1994), UConn (2004) and Florida (2007).

Travis Ford defeated his mentor and friend Billy Donovan, marking the first time in three meetings, Ford won against Donovan. He had lost twice while at Eastern Kentucky.

Dante Milligan continued to flourish in the NIT with his third game in double-figures in four NIT contests and his 13th game this season with 10 or more as he scored 17. Milligan is averaging 15.5 points in the NIT.

Milligan had his third career double-double an second in a row for the first time in his career with 17 points and 12 rebounds.

Ricky Harris had his 32nd game this season in double-figures with 16.

Gary Forbes has now scored in double-figures in 34 of 35 games this season and 38 of the last 39 games with 19.

Chris Lowe scored 16 points for his 20th double-figure game this season.

UMass had a stretch of more than 10 minutes without a field goal from 12:09 to 2:02 in the first half, yet the Minutemen trailed by just five points. UMass missed 15 of its final 17 shots in the first half and made just 1-of -14 from 3-point land.

QUOTES

COACH Travis Ford's OPENING STATEMENT:
You know, very excited about the win. These guys have shown a lot of heart and a lot of integrity and believing in each other. You know, we played tonight against a very young but very talented and extremely, extremely well coached Florida basketball team.

You know, again, I told our guys, the reason I thought we would have a chance in this game would be if our seniors would show leadership; if our seniors would step up. And there's no question that our three seniors who played tonight I thought were the difference in the basketball game. Obviously Chris Lowe did some very, very nice things. But I think our three leaders have had the mentality of not wanting to take the UMASS uniform off. I think it has shown in our previous games in the fact that we have gotten down in all of them, and we figured a way out to come back. And the reason we come back is these guys just have that never die attitude.

Dante Milligan's THOUGHTS ON THE GAME:
I knew my teammates were trying to play their heart out and we just wanted to come in and get the win.

Gary Forbes ON TEAM'S POOR SHOOTING IN FIRST HALF:
From day one, when Coach started coaching us, he told us we are going to be susceptible to runs and we are going to make runs and so we never worry about how we're shooting in the first half. We shot 1 for 13 from the 3. We came in the locker room very positive and we knew we were going to make a run like we always do.

Gary Forbes ON TEAM'S ABILITY TO COME BACK:
I mean, I felt, like I said, we think about all of the past games and we've played, like Northern Iowa from the beginning of the season, down 20 points at the half and we came back, down at Syracuse and came back; Akron and we came back. It's like an ongoing thing for us. It's like Coach said, we have a never die attitude.

Chris Lowe ON THE FAN SUPPORT:
You know, that means a lot because it shows how well we're playing as a team and how the coaching staff is getting back in the winning tradition back at UMASS and make us seem like on home court. A lot of us are from New York and we're right in Massachusetts and it's real close.

Chris Lowe ON TEAM'S CONFIDENCE:
We started making shots and better decisions with the ball once we went up, and once we went up, we knew we were going to keep the lead as long as we played smart basketball and that's what we did. We just fed off each other's energy and protected the lead for the whole game, or in the second half.

Gary Forbes ON PLAYING IN THE GARDEN:
I kind of felt at home. I've played here twice before for championship games in high school, and you know, it was ironic that I ended my high school career here at my high school and ended my college career here. This time I felt like I wanted to get to the championship game and won my last college game and to win it at the Garden is definitely a dream come true.

COACH Travis Ford ON FREE THROW SHOOTING:
We don't have the greatest percentages when you look at a piece of paper, but we seem to have made them this year when they counted.

Obviously it's key, you know, Chris Lowe is a good foul shooter and Gary can make foul shots and Dante is getting better. (Laughter).

But it does have something to do with making sure the right guys get there, and you know, there's no question that we would love for the percentages to be better on a piece of paper. I've always said, I think there is such a thing as a good free throw shooting team and not so good. I think you can get a little better if you're back and forth, but this team has seemed to, when they counted, put them in. You know, there's no question Chris made some big ones tonight.

Dante Milligan ON HOMETOWN FANS:
Yeah, I mean, it definitely felt like a home game. We definitely fed off of their energy and I think that helped us go on our run in the second half, and that's why we've continued to play as hard as we did.

Dante Milligan ON DEFENDING SPEIGHTS:
In the first half I was primarily playing on his back and he was getting easy catches in the post but in the second I was a little bit more active working him too much, so I guess he didn't like that too much.

COACH Travis Ford ON DEFENDING SPEIGHTS:
And the first half, the way we were playing defensively put Dante in a bad spot a lot because we were blitzing or trapping ball screens which got him out on the court and allowed Speights to run free a little bit so then we quit blitzing and quit trapping which allowed him to focus a little bit more on his man. So probably we put him in a bad spot the first half.

COACH Travis Ford ON USING THE CLOCK LATE:
Yeah, I do think we got the game going up and down the way we wanted it for most of the second half. I was very confident with our defense, the way our defense was playing. I think we held them to 30 points the second half and that's the only reason I had to slow it down a little bit because I felt pretty good about our defense at that point in time. I felt if we got to the 3 minute mark and didn't give up any 3s, I felt like we were in good shape.

I felt like off the dribble at the end of a shot clock, we were trying to spread the court out a little bit and Chris Lowe is one of the tough guys to guard off the dribble and we wanted to him to create something, whether it was a drive for himself or a drive and kick. Gary made a couple tough shots, he made a fall away jumpshot which was a hand right in his face.

So we made a few shots to be able to continue to do that.

COACH Travis Ford ON WINNING DESPITE NOT SHOOTING WELL:
Yeah, again, you know, when you go 1 for 13 in the first half, obviously you're wondering how things are going.

But as I told our team, it's funny, right before our team went out on the court in our last little get together, I said, "We're a team, we are not dependent on three pointers." I told them, "We are depending on how hard we work. Don't depend on 3 pointers." I don't know if I jinxed us or what but we didn't make many.

As many as we take, I've said this, it's not a do or die thing for us. You know, what is important for us is to get the game going up and down. Now, if we make a few shots that allows you to press and allows you to do things, but as long as we are not turning the ball over and as long as we are not fouling a lot, those are two things we don't want to do because that slows the game down and that's what we want to do. We want to try to make it as fast as possible, try to fatigue teams, and we're going to make some 3s. May not be a whole lot, but we'll make a few here and there.

COACH Travis Ford ON WHAT HE SAID AT HALFTIME:
We talked again at halftime, you know, I think we were down nine and things weren't going well and defensively we had to make some adjustments on our ball screens. We started the game trapping and blitzing, Lucas and those guys, and it wasn't working and they ended up turning the corner on our big guy and playmaking to some other guys. We made some adjustments defensively to go in the ball screen, quit trapping and allowing them to get a high number of assists. We wanted to cut down their number of assists.

We told them, we need to get the game going up and down. The game is not going fast the way we want it to go and we came out and scored a couple baskets early which gave us some confidence and the game started getting back into the flow that we liked it. Again, we talked about, it's crazy to say, we're happy to be down nine. It could have been a lot worse. It could have been a lot worse. When you go out and shoot 1 for 13 from the 3 point line it could be a lot worse.

COACH Travis Ford IN IF HIS TEAM IS COMFORTABLE PLAYING FROM BEHIND:
It's been so long since we had a lead in the first half. Our guys really believe in each other.

I go back, Coach Donovan has got a very young basketball team, this is going to be a valuable experience for them, and there's not a better coach in the country. And we talked a lot about, we were an older basketball team. You know, we start three fifth year seniors, and that needed to show at some point, it needed to, if we were going to have a chance to win because they are a very young, talented basketball team. But those three seniors need to show why they have been at college for five years, and I thought they did that. I thought Dante played great and Etienne made a few good shots at the end and played defense and rebounded the ball well. I told them, we'll go as our three seniors go, and I thought those guys really stepped up tonight.


UMass again rallies in the second half
By Matt Vautour, Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 4/2/2008

NEW YORK - The first-half shooting was not as bad, the deficit not nearly as large, and the result not as dramatic in Tuesday's National Invitation Tournament semifinal win by the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team.

But the result was similar to the Minutemen's stunning NIT quarterfinal victory as UMass wiped out another double-digit deficit against a brand-name team in a legendary location.

Florida was the latest victim as the Minutemen (25-10) advanced to the NIT championship game with a 78-66 win at Madison Square Garden.

UMass will play the winner of the second semifinal between Mississippi and Ohio State in the final at 7 p.m. Thursday, also at Madison Square Garden.

"I'm very excited about the win," said Minuteman coach Travis Ford whose team erased a 22-point deficit against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome March 25.

"We played with a lot of heart. I thought we would have a chance if our seniors showed leadership," Ford added. "Our three seniors were the difference in the basketball game. Our three seniors have had the mentality of not wanting to take the UMass uniform off. These guys have that never-die attitude."

After falling behind by 10 in the first half, UMass trailed 36-27 at halftime. But it was quickly evident that the Minutemen were a different team in the second half.

Trailing 44-35, Dante Milligan tipped in Ricky Harris' miss to start a 14-3 UMass run that Chris Lowe finished with a steal and a layup that put the Minutemen up 49-47 and awoke their fans.

There was plenty to cheer about down the stretch. UMass stretched its lead to 59-51 with 7 minutes, 28 seconds left, but a three-point play by Nick Calathes briefly energized the Gators.

They dug in defensively on the next possession and forced the Minutemen deep into the shot clock. But Gary Forbes, who has struggled from 3-point range lately, knocked one down with four seconds on the shot clock to put the Minutemen ahead 62-54 with just over five minutes left.

Calathes tried to answer, but his 3-point try missed. UMass took a lot of time off the shot clock again and this time Forbes hit a turn-around leaner to extend the Minutemen's advantage to 64-54 with 4:19 left.

From there the young Gators were desperate and the veteran Minutemen looked composed.

UMass made nine of 12 free throws down the stretch to seal the win.

When it was over the Minutemen raised their hands and saluted the crowd's many maroon-clad fans.

"It felt like a home game," Milligan said. "We fed off their energy and I think that helped us go on our run in the second half."

Forbes led UMass with 19 points, and Milligan added 17 points and 12 rebounds. Harris and Lowe each had 16 points.

Marreese Speights had 16 points and a career-high 18 rebounds for Florida, who finished its season at 24-12.

The teams went back and forth early. But after Milligan's jump hook put UMass up 19-17, the Minutemen missed their next 13 field-goal attempts.

The Gators took advantage and pulled ahead 35-25 with a minute left in the half.

"We came into the locker room very positive. We knew were going to make a run like we always do," said Forbes, who recognized he has a unique opportunity Thursday. "I want to win my last college game and to have a chance to win it at the Garden is a dream come true."


Minutemen dunk Gators
Special night for Milligan

By Matt Vautour, Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 4/2/2008

NEW YORK - When Dante Milligan set getting to Madison Square Garden as a goal, his dream could not have been too much different than Tuesday's National Invitation Tournament semifinal turned out.

The University of Massachusetts senior had a 17-point, 12-rebound game and was a catalyst for his team's come-from-behind 78-66 win over Florida.

As his teammates celebrated, Milligan headed to the crowd and embraced his mother Ruby under the same basket where he scored 11 points in the second half.

'I didn't see her in the first half because we were shooting at the other end, but she said something to me at the beginning of the second half that totally changed my focus,' said Milligan, who chose to keep the message private.

Milligan grew up in Manhattan and his mother now lives a 10-minute walk from the 'world's most famous arena.'

At halftime, Milligan's mother and this year's recipient of the Alonzo Milligan Scholarship were honored. The grant is named for Milligan's younger brother who was killed in a drive-by shooting three years ago. Milligan, who often came to Madison Square Garden with his brother, said he felt his presence.

'I just wanted to play my heart out for my family and friends and my brother who was there watching over me,' Milligan said.

UMass coach Travis Ford said he was excited for seniors Milligan, Etienne Brower and Gary Forbes, who are all from the New York area.

'It's meant a lot to them to get here,' Ford said. 'They've just been to the point of being giddy. I'm excited for them.

MINUTEMEN VS. DEFENDING CHAMPS - UMass is now 4-1 all time against defending national champions, also having beaten North Carolina in 1993, Arkansas in 1994 and Connecticut in 2004.

UMass could face the defending champs next year if Kansas wins the NCAA Tournament. The Minutemen play Kansas in Kansas City.

GAFFNEY PLAYS - Junior big man Tony Gaffney, who missed the Syracuse game with a left knee injury, returned to action in the first half Tuesday. He had two points and a rebound in four minutes, but did not play in the second half.

ATTENDANCE - UMass officials estimated that there were about 3,200 Minuteman fans in attendance, more than attended either NIT home game. Seven fan buses from McGuirk Stadium brought fans from western Massachusetts, while many alumni from New York and New Jersey made the trip.

MISCELLANEOUS - The NIT is the last basketball for Linda Bruno as commissioner of the Atlantic 10. She sat and cheered behind the UMass bench Tuesday.

Former Minuteman Dana Dingle also was in attendance.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. For more UMass coverage, including a UMass sports blog, go to www.dailyhampshiregazette.com/umsports.


Massachusetts Minutemen  78
Florida Gators  66
NIT Semi-Final
at Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

Official Basketball Box Score
Massachusetts vs Florida Gators
04/01/08 7:00:00 PM at Madison Square Garden New York, NY


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VISITORS: Massachusetts
                          TOT-FG  3-PT         REBOUNDS
## Player Name            FG-FGA FG-FGA FT-FTA OF DE TOT PF  TP  A TO BLK S MIN
03 Forbes, Gary........ f  7-16   1-5    4-6    0  4  4   3  19  1  2  1  2  37
22 Brower, Etienne..... f  3-8    2-7    0-0    2  7  9   1   8  2  3  3  1  36
20 Milligan, Dante..... c  8-12   0-0    1-2    5  7 12   4  17  0  2  3  1  29
05 Harris, Ricky....... g  4-12   1-7    7-10   0  1  1   3  16  0  3  0  2  32
14 Lowe, Chris......... g  4-11   1-2    7-9    0  1  1   2  16  5  0  1  0  36
11 Correia, Gary.......    0-1    0-1    0-0    0  0  0   0   0  0  0  0  0   9
24 Gaffney, Tony.......    1-1    0-0    0-0    1  0  1   0   2  0  1  1  0   4
31 Bonner, Luke........    0-2    0-1    0-0    1  6  7   3   0  2  0  0  0  11
33 Glass, Matt.........    0-1    0-1    0-0    0  0  0   2   0  0  0  0  0   6
   TEAM,...............                         3  3  6
   Totals..............   27-64   5-24  19-27  12 29 41  18  78 10 11  9  6 200

TOTAL FG% 1st Half: 11-34 32.4%   2nd Half: 16-30 53.3%   Game: 42.2%  DEADB
3-Pt. FG% 1st Half:  1-13  7.7%   2nd Half:  4-11 36.4%   Game: 20.8%   REBS
F Throw % 1st Half:  4-7  57.1%   2nd Half: 15-20 75.0%   Game: 70.4%    3


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HOME TEAM: Florida Gators
                          TOT-FG  3-PT         REBOUNDS
## Player Name            FG-FGA FG-FGA FT-FTA OF DE TOT PF  TP  A TO BLK S MIN
21 Werner, Dan......... f  5-12   1-5    0-0    2  8 10   3  11  7  4  0  0  33
34 Speights, Marreese.. f  7-14   0-0    2-5    6 12 18   1  16  1  3  0  1  28
05 Lucas, Jai.......... g  2-7    0-0    1-1    0  2  2   3   5  1  2  0  0  28
15 Hodge, Walter....... g  3-8    0-1    1-2    1  2  3   5   7  2  1  0  2  32
33 Calathes, Nick...... g  5-19   0-2    2-4    6  1  7   3  12  3  2  0  1  27
00 Mitchell, Jonathan..    0-2    0-0    0-0    2  1  3   0   0  0  1  0  0   7
14 Allen, Adam.........    1-2    1-2    1-2    0  0  0   2   4  0  2  0  0   7
23 Tyus, Alex..........    1-1    0-0    0-2    0  0  0   0   2  0  0  1  0   8
25 Parsons, Chandler...    4-6    0-2    1-5    1  2  3   5   9  1  1  0  1  30
   TEAM,...............                         2  2  4
   Totals..............   28-71   2-12   8-21  20 30 50  22  66 15 16  1  5 200

TOTAL FG% 1st Half: 15-37 40.5%   2nd Half: 13-34 38.2%   Game: 39.4%  DEADB
3-Pt. FG% 1st Half:  2-6  33.3%   2nd Half:  0-6   0.0%   Game: 16.7%   REBS
F Throw % 1st Half:  4-8  50.0%   2nd Half:  4-13 30.8%   Game: 38.1%    7


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Officials:  John Higgins, Ted Hillary , Les Jones
Technical fouls: Massachusetts-None. Florida Gators-None.
Attendance:
Score by Periods                1st  2nd   Total
Massachusetts.................   27   51  -   78
Florida Gators................   36   30  -   66


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