PHILADELPHIA, PA (UMass Athletics) – Terrell Vinson scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half as Massachusetts erased a 17-point deficit to defeat Drexel, 72-70, and advance to the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament. The comeback marked the second time this season the Minutemen have been able to overcome a 17-point margin for a win (vs. Saint Joseph’s on Jan. 14). UMass will next play in the NIT Semifinals held next Tuesday at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Trailing 53-36 with 16:26 to play, UMass outscored Drexel 26-7 over the next nine minutes while making 10 of 14 shot and forcing eight Dragon turnovers. Drexel tied it at 62 before consecutive jumpers from Vinson pushed the margin to 68-62 with 4:13 left.
The Dragons cut the margin to 70-68 on a Frantz Massenat layup. Sean Carter responded with a pick-and-roll bucket that extended the lead back to two possessions with 1:33 remaining.
Following two Massenat free throws, the Dragons had one more possession with under 16 seconds on the clock after UMass was unable to score on two possessions. Massenat’s jumper was short and the Minutemen swatted the ball down the court to secure their second appearance in the NIT semifinals in the last five years.
UMass (25-11) shot 59 percent for the game, including a blistering 71 pct. in the second half. Chaz Williams had a game-high 20 points with four rebounds, four assists and two steals. Vinson added a team-high five rebounds to go along with two assists, two blocks and two steals. Philadelphia native Jesse Morgan finished with 13 points and four steals, while matching Williams with two 3-pointers for all four of UMass’ outside shots.
UMass’ path to the semifinals included three road wins, making it just the fourth school to accomplish that feat since the tournament began using home sites in 1977 – Fresno State in 1998, Detroit in 2001 and Georgetown in 2003.
Tuesday’s win might have been the most dramatic for the squad this season as the Minutemen 17-point deficit matched the highest overcome in a victory, matching the 17-point deficit in UMass’ 71-62 home win over Saint Joseph’s.
Drexel (29-7) was led by Dartaye Ruffin’s 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting. Ruffin dominated the paint in the first half, scoring all of his points during the opening period while leading the Dragons to a 41-31 lead at the break.
UMass will now face the winner of the Nevada-Stanford game on Tuesday, March 27 at Madison Square Garden. This marks the third semifinal appearance for UMass, following 1991 and 2008 showings.