AMHERST - Dayton's Tony Stanley had been giving University of Massachusetts guard Monty Mack fits all night as the Minuteman had missed twice as many shots as he made against the Flyers' defensive stopper.
But with the score tied 57-57 with under a minute left in overtime, Mack brushed off his struggles and wanted the ball. He got it on the perimeter and faked a shot. Stanley bought it and the Minuteman guard drove past him into the lane.
He pulled up and the shot dropped through with 10.1 seconds left. Stanley missed at the other end and UMass escaped with the win.
Ten days later with UMass on its home court and trailing 58-57 with 13.1 seconds left, Mack wanted the ball again. This time he drove the baseline and pulled up. This time the shot went off the glass but the result was the same. Ball drops in. UMass wins.
"He's the guy you go to now," said UMass coach Bruiser Flint. "He's shown night in and night out that he can do it."
He didn't know who the opponent would be or the gym the game would be in, but Mack has been preparing for these shots for a long time.
Practicing by himself, he would count off the seconds on a game clock visible only in his own mind. Playing both the role of announcer and last-second hero Mack would deliver both the game-winning shot and the play-by-play to the imaginary crowd.
As he got older Mack became a fervent UMass fan and his high school daydreams found him in a Minuteman uniform.
"I used to watch every game. I used to like watching Mike Williams take game-winning shots and the crowd went wild. I loved the way they played," Mack said. "Lou Roe encouraged me a lot. He had that never-die attitude. I think that's why I have the courage to take those last shots. To never die."
After a brilliant career at South Boston High School, Mack had to sit out his freshman year due to NCAA academic regulations, Mack made an impressive debut last year that set expectations high for him this year.
The fact that the scoreboard, the fans and his heroics are all real now is the fulfillment of a goal.
"I'm the type of person that when the game is on the line, I want the ball in my hands," Mack said. "I'm the type of player that wants to take all the big shots. I just want to play up to my ability and if taking a big shot is playing up to my ability, then I'll take it."
It's been a season of contrasts for the Boston native.
On one hand, he is having a season players dream about. He is UMass' leading scorer in just his second season as a collegiate player, averaging 17.6 points per game while evolving into one of the most complete backcourt players this decade for UMass.
In addition to scoring, his rebounding and passing have both picked up, but the most significant addition to his game has come on defense.
"Defensively he's gotten a lot better," Flint said. "We put him on the best guards in the league. I'm asking a lot from the kid, with this only being his second year. But he's done well."
But the personal success has come with an empty feeling as the Minutemen have struggled to a 10-12 record. Still Mack has tried to remain positive.
"It's been hard," Mack said. "We've had our ups and downs. We still have the Atlantic 10 tournament, so we still have a chance."
Mack's success has come despite some turmoil early in the season. Prior to the start of the season, a female student who had been involved in a dining hall fracas alleged that Mack had assaulted her in his attempt to break up the fight. She pressed charges against him. Mack was cleared, but the incident took its toll.
"It was tough, because after that whole incident happened I would walk to class and people would be looking at me in strange ways," said Mack, his face twisting a bit as he recalled the uncomfortable memory. "I would sit in class and students would be looking at me and that affected me. But Bruiser has always been by my side and I thank him for being there for me. A lot of coaches could have been (acting) like, we don't want you here anymore.
"I felt relieved (when cleared) because the weight on my shoulders dropped off," Mack continued. "I just don't like when people make images about you and they really don't know you. If you want to say something first about me I would like you to at least get to know me."
Flint was impressed by Mack's resiliency.
"He was able to shake it off because he felt as though he didn't really do anything wrong," Flint said. "I think it's made him a little cautious. Monty has always been a nice kid and very respectful. I'm glad he's not living in the past. He just went on and did what he was supposed to do."
The blotch on his image bothered him even more because Mack has a standard to live up to in the eyes of Ronald Mack Jr.
"My little nephew is like my biggest fan. It's like I'm the world to him," Mack said. "I raised him. He lived with me and my mom. There were days where I couldn't go to school because I was watching him. He's like my little son. He looks up to me like I'm his father. Just by him always being around, I have to look over my shoulder to make sure everything you do is right so he won't learn wrong."
After hitting the game-winner against the Hawks Sunday, Mack enjoyed the adulation from the whole crowd, but having his nephew in the house was icing on the cake.
"Just seeing (Ronald) up here to watch me play makes me feel good," Mack said.