A Basketball Review, 1969-70…
Last Year’s Cagers Best Ever At UMass
From The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, December 1, 1970
Last winter saw UMass produce its finest basketball team of all time. That team had an 18-7 record, compiling that mark after getting off to a slow 5-5 start in its first ten games. Those 18 wins are the most ever recorded by a Redman hoop squad.
Because of its victory surge in the second half of the season, which included wins over New England notables such as Holy Cross, UConn, Rhode Island, Boston University and Northeastern, UMass was voted the number one team in the six-state area.
The Redmen capped off their excellent campaign by being selected to play in the National Invitational Tournament in New York City. The team, bolstered by N.E.'s top-rated coach Jack Leaman, N.E.'s top-rated player Julius Erving, four hard-working seniors in the persons of Ray Ellerbrook, Dennis Chapman, Jack Gallagher and Dick Samuelson, and some prime talent in John Betancourt, Ken Mathias, Mike Pagliara and Bob Dempsey, and cheered on by 5,000 crazy UMass hoop fans,. . . . well, the team pushed to its very limit, Marquette University, before bowing in the end, 62-55. Marquette went on to take the NIT in a breeze.
Quite a season! The following is a game-by-game rundown of the 1969-1970 story.
GAME 1 - PROVIDENCE: UMass won this opener at home against a very talented Friar club, 90-85. Top performers for the Redmen were Erving (28 rebounds - a new UM record) and Ellerbrook (25 big points).
GAME 2 - VERMONT: UMass took this game in methodic fashion, 90-73. Erving paced the winners (25 points, 15 rebounds).
GAME 3 - RHODE ISLAND: The Redmen were shocked in this one in overtime, 77-73, by a highly-gifted Ram squad. A third straight Cage crowd of plus-4200 witnessed its favorites lose their first. John Fultz was outstanding for Rhody (26 points).
GAME 4 - NEW HAMPSHIRE. UMass won its third, 76-56. Erving had a big night (33 points, 26 rebounds) and Chapman contributed much to the Redmen return to victory.
GAME 5 - CONNECTICUT: The taste was awful after this one with UMass losing to the Huskies, 88-71. The Redmen beat themselves in this one; it would be their worst basketball performance of the winter.
GAME 6 - AT AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL: UMass was nipped in the late stages against AIC, 73-72. The Redman record was .500, 3-3.
GAME 7 - AT THE GEM CITY TOURNEY VS. CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY: An easy win for UMass in the first round of the two-round tournament, over Catholic U., 70-51.
GAME 8 - AT THE GEM CITY TOURNEY VS. GANNON. The Redmen overtook the Golden Knights, 72-63, to win the tiny tourney. A big factor in UMass' title victory was the defensive play of Gallagher and Erving; the latter was selected as the most valuable player in the four-team affair.
GAME 9 - AT PENNSYLVANIA: UMass lost to Penn, 75-65, but showed definite signs of a unit to be reckoned with the rest of the way. The Quakers were the 12th-ranked team in the nation when the Redmen faced them in Philadelphia's famed Palestra, but UMass made Penn scrap for everything it got.
GAME 10 - AT FORDHAM: Another last-second loss for the traveling Redmen, 62-61. Erving was great in this loss (37 points, 20 rebounds). UMass' record stood at 5-5.
GAME 11 - AT IONA: A key victory for the Redmen, 86-82. The visitors tallied 51 points in the second half to overcome a Gael lead. Ellerbrook and Erving were hot shooters in that half to spur UMass on to its sixth. More were to come.
GAME 12 - BOSTON UNIVERSITY: A homecoming tilt for the Redmen, it marked the beginning of the UMass second semester, and the home team got everything off on a good foot, routing the Terriers, 103-68. UMass' lead at the half was 61-28. Four big names: Erving, Ellerbrook, Gallagher and Samuelson.
GAME 13 - NORTHEASTERN: The Redmen surged past a good N.U. team, 90-62. Erving glittered (30 points, 27 rebounds).
GAME 14 - AT BOSTON COLLEGE: UMass fell to the Eagles in Boston, 83-76. A loss to B.C., always a disheartening defeat.
GAME 15 - RIDER: The Redmen were flat in this home contest but had enough of something to take it, 82-67.
GAME 16 - AT VERMONT: The hard defeat to B.C. behind it, and the practice game with Rider all over, UMass retained an aura of seriousness it would not abandon for the remainder of the season as it whipped Vermont, 93-59. Ellerbrook broke out of a cold-shooting streak against the Catamounts and connected on ten of 11 field attempts and two of three foul shots for 22 points.
GAME 17 - HOLY CROSS: This game was probably the Redmen's biggest of the year, for Holy Cross entered the Cage as the top-rated quintet in New England. Before the television cameras of Channel 27 and before a packed home crowd of about 4500, UMass defeated the Crusaders, 83-66. A big team effort by the Redmen decided this one.
GAME 18 - AT CONNECTICUT: UMass continued its winning streak and erased the bad memories of the earlier loss to UConn by bettering the Huskies, 71-65. Betancourt shined on defense in this tilt, harassing UConn's hot-shooter, Bob Boyd, into missing 22 of 29 shots for an off-night of 17 points.
GAME 19 - AT RHODE ISLAND: For any claim to greatness, it was necessary for the Redmen to finish first in the YanCon. Early season losses to league-mates UConn and URI were atoned for when UMass clipped the Rams, 83-74, thus completing a two-game sweep of these toughies. As it stood then, the Redmen needed a win in each of their three remaining Conference games for at least a tie for the league title.
GAME 20 - SPRINGFIELD: UMass got a good scare against the Chiefs before taking the game by six points, 82-76. Ellerbrook paced Redman scoring (24 points), while Erving's expected brilliance and Mathias' clutch play in the late goings offset a tremendous 37-point show by Springfield's Dennis Clark.
GAME 21 - AT MAINE: A win here was expected. Final score: UMass 84, Maine 66. The Redmen's mark was now 15-6.
GAME 22 - AT ST. ANSELM'S: To emerge victorious in this game, 94-63, the Redmen had to master a boasting college division (Referred to “College Division” at the time, this would later evolve into the NCAA’s Division II.) power in St. A's and its highly-partisan home crowd. They did.
GAME 23 - MAINE: UMass celebrated the last home game for seniors Ellerbrook, Chapman, Gallagher and Samuelson by gliding past the Black Bears, 103-71. With the victories piling up the idea of the Redmen getting invited to a post-season tourney became more than just a distant hope. A sign among the Cage gathering at this game read, “To the NIT with Julius 'E' ”.
GAME 24 - AT NEW HAMPSHIRE: This was the last game of the regular season for the Redmen and they made it, winning 92-75, for a final record of 18-6. With this victory came the tie with UConn for the Conference championship. At this time and for the next five days the atmosphere on this campus was one of concern about UMass' chances of receiving a bid to the NIT. That bid did come, sneaking in the back door on Saturday, March 7.
What led up to this big day and the full story on the crazy week that followed can be found on this page. For the few days it lasted, the events that surrounded the Redmen basketball team and its experiences involving the NIT produced one of the greatest legends in the annals of UMass sports history.