UMass Loses First
Redmen Fall In Thriller To PC, 73-72
By Barry Rubenstein, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian Assistant Sports Editor, 1/27/1971 (first publication after winter break)
PROVIDENCE, R.I. - In one of the most exciting games the UMass basketball team has played in a long time, the Redmen were dumped from the ranks of the unbeaten, 73-72, in a fiercely fought “nip'n'tuck” affair at Alumni Hall before a sell-out crowd of 3300 on January 23. UMass now stands at 11-1, and the Friars are 10-3.
If one word could sum up the UMass feeling about this game it would have to be frustration. In an unbelievable turn of events, the Redmen were handed a golden opportunity to pull an almost certain defeat out of the fire, but as it turned out it was all for naught.
The situation was straight from a Hollywood 'B' movie. With 0:42 on the clock, Ernie DiGregorio, who was unbelievable throughout the game's leading scorer with 33 points, netted two free throws to give the Friars a seemingly safe lead of four, 73-69.
With one foul to waste, DiGregorio then bumped Mike Pagliara and when the junior guard hit the charity toss, Providence once again had the ball with only 37 seconds to kill on the clock.
If events to this point had been exciting, they got downright dramatic from here on. With the Friars attempting to freeze and the Redmen going for the steal, Providence center Ray Johnson was left alone underneath the hoop. He took the pass, hesitated a second, and then went up for a seemingly uncontested layup.
But Ken Mathias came from nowhere and made a phenomenal block of Johnson's shot and both sides scrambled for the precious loose ball. In the ensuing melee, Jim Larranaga rammed Pagliara sending the junior backcourtman to the line for one-and-one, since the Friars were now in the penalty situation.
With 0:20 on the clock, UMass had one, maybe two, free throws but were trailing by three points, 73-70. UMass fans were hoping that one of two things would happen. Either Pagliara would net the first free throw and miss the second with a teammate grabbing the carom, or he would sink both and UMass would try to steal the inbounds pass.
Either way, Pagliara had to make the first. With the pressure of an undefeated season on his back, the classy guard not only connected on the first but the second as well. The score: Providence 73, UMass 72 with 0:20 still on the clock.
The press was on. Despite the fanatic efforts of the Redmen, the Friars managed to get the ball into DiGregorio, the team leader and most important at this point, the best ball handler. UMass hopes looked dim. But somehow the great guard was forced into a corner and boxed in by Mathias and Pagliara.
To the disbelief of a vast majority of the audience, DiGregorio was called for an offensive foul, and with 0:18 left the Redmen actually had an opportunity to win. UMass took time out to talk it over.
During the interlude, the crowd still murmured over the turn of events and speculated about who UMass would set up for the shot. In the game for the Redmen were Julius Erving, John Betancourt, Mathias, Pagliara, and Rick Vogeley. All good shooters.
As play began, UMass worked the ball as quickly as possible to Vogeley who was at his customary spot about fifteen feet to the left of the hoop. Vogeley took the jump shot and it went in and then out again. As seconds ticked away, there was a scramble for the rebound and it ended up in the hands of Erving right in front of the basket. But he too failed to put it in.
This time the ball was batted out to the right side where Pagliara scooped it up and fired. The ball bounced off the rim and before the Redmen could retrieve it, the horn had blown and UMass had its first loss of the year.
The game had been a close affair throughout. Providence led at halftime, 40-33, mainly on the bombing of DiGregorio who seemed unstoppable. But UMass was getting some scoring from its own backcourt as Betancourt and Pagliara were both on the mark.
The Redmen closed the gap to three, 44-41, with three minutes gone in the second stanza as Betancourt banged home four straight hoops, all from fifteen feet or more. Momentum seemed to be swinging towards the Redmen as they finally were able to tie the score at 10:22 at 54-54 and then take the lead. But DiGregorio would not quit and he put the Friars back on top.
After Nehru King hit two short jumpers for Providence the teams traded hoops until Betancourt scored from eighteen feet. Then the fun started.
LAYUP LINES - Leading scorer for UMass was Betancourt with 20. Erving, who only converted six of 18 field goal attempts, had 19 points and 17 rebounds, while Pagliara had 15 points.
In This Corner
25-1 Ain't So Bad
By Peter Pascarelli, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian Assistant Sports Editor-In-Chief, 1/27/1971 (first publication after winter break)
It was the odd coincidence Saturday for both UCLA and UMass to be knocked from the unbeaten ranks among the nation's college basketball teams. Both were defeated by superlative performances by a guard; UCLA by Notre Dame's Austin Carr, and UMass by Providence's Ernie DiGregorio. Both were defeated on rabid enemy courts. Both were defeated on television.
There the similarities end, between UCLA and UMass.
The Redman loss to Providence was the type of defeat that can wreck team morale, and get a team muttering to itself for weeks to come. UMass had struggled from behind all night, and with 18 seconds left, and victory in its hands, it missed three shots all by inches.
But UMass morale won't be wrecked, for this team has too much character, and guts, and ability, and too much Jack Leaman to let one loss hurt it. And the fact that the game was headlined the next day as a Providence upset of Massachusetts, shows how far UMass basketball has come. This is the Providence of Len Wilkens, Jimmy Walker, N.I.T. fame, etc., etc., whose win over UMass, on the Friars' home court, was termed an upset.
The Redmen are into the meat of their schedule, with their next three games the biggest of the year right now. Tonight, they play nationally-ranked Fordham, Saturday Northeastern, which has won ten straight, and then Tuesday, it's down to Worcester and Holy Cross. 'Nuff said.
UMass basketball is the biggest thing on campus right now. It is probably one of the few things on campus that virtually everyone has some interest in. The Redmen did not back into this interest, they have earned it.
The Providence loss is not enough to hurt what this team has accomplished the past year and a half. The N.I.T., three successive Yankee Conference titles, and a stranglehold on a fourth, 21 straight regular season wins, nation-wide attention, and the loyalties of a complete student body.
UMass has the ability to win the rest of its games. This is not an idle, partisan, pipe dream. This instead is a realistic possibility. Its backcourt has been outstanding, especially in the past two games, with John Betancourt and Mike Pagliara scoring 35 points between them Saturday, against the taller Friars. The frontcourt has been bolstered by the consistent rebounding of Ken Mathias, the improving Chris Coffin, Rick Vogeley, a deadly shooter in substitute role, and of course, the finest basketball player ever to play for a New England college, Julius Erving.
And both the frontcourt and the backcourt will be bolstered by the presence of Tom McLaughlin, a transfer who becomes eligible against Northeastern, and who will be a valuable and versatile performer. Virtually all of the remaining have helped in some way at some time, and can be counted on to do the same the rest of the way.
Yes, the Providence loss was a tough one. It can't be forgotten. But a team with this much ability and this much to play for won't be hurt by it. Neither will a team that is coached by what has to be one of the finest hoop mentors anywhere, Jack Leaman.
Besides, a 25-1 record isn't all that bad.
Fleer turned this Getty Images photo from this game into a card. Larger Getty image here.
Box score as published in The Collegian only showed the UMass starters, scoring 64 points. Eight points unaccounted for.