UMass is a team close to my heart. My grandparents were professors there, my dad grew up in Amherst, and my sister went there for grad school. It was fun watching these two teams go at it. And college basketball can be funny. UMass-Lowell beat GT. UMass beat UMass-Lowell. GT beat UMass.
This was in many ways an ugly game. There were a significant number of runs from both teams. The Yellow Jackets could not keep the ball, ending with 21 turnovers and just 7 assists as a team. UMass couldn’t hit a free throw, shooting just 8-19 (while GT shot 18-21). But in the end Georgia Tech was the one who made just enough plays.
Like I said earlier, it really was a game of runs. UMass went up 9 early, but GT turned it around and gained a 6 point lead at half and then scored first to make it 8. Then the Minutemen went on a 12-0 run to take the lead right back. Then they followed that up with another run to make it 11. The Yellow Jackets started chipping away at the lead and brought it down to 4 at the under-4 timeout. During the timeout the refs went back and reviewed a Baye Ndongo goaltend from 3 minutes earlier. They ruled it wasn’t a goaltend (or basket interference) and took the points off the board. Ndongo then tied the game up on the next possession. This was a huge momentum change. The teams traded baskets for the next few minutes until Kyle Sturdivant hit two clutch free throws with 16 seconds left to go up 4. The game looked almost over until UMass hit a quick three with just 10 seconds left. They fouled Kyle Sturdivant and again he hit another two clutch free throws. UMass still had 5 seconds left to tie it, but GT played excellent defense forcing a leaning, double-clutch three point attempt that still came pretty close.
The win was in large part due to Kyle Sturdivant. I haven’t mentioned him a ton this year, but he was great all around today. Driving, shooting, distributing. He made 4 free throws in the final minute which helped to guarantee the win. He finished with 21 points. Helping him most were Deebo Coleman, Kowacie Reeves, and Baye Ndongo. Deebo had a strong first half finishing with 12 points on 4-8 shooting. Reeves made some huge plays in the second half when it looked like the Minutemen might run away with it. And Baye Ndongo continued to show his immense potential. He had 12 points (on 6-6 shooting), 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks. He made Massachussets miss several other shots too when they drove at him. But, he had 5 turnovers and most of his points were in situations where the defense was broken down. He struggled against a set defense. Miles Kelly also struggled. He is still the best offensive player on this team, but he was just 2-11 today.
One other thing that was a little frustrating was the struggle on rebounding. This GT team has a lot of length and athleticism and has dominated other smaller teams in rebounding. That didn’t happen today. The teams ended up roughly at par on the boards which favored the smaller Minutemen.
I have to give a lot of credit to UMass’s defense. Frank Martin had them playing tough and hunting for turnovers. On offense the Yellow Jackets focused heavily on slowing down the star big man Josh Cohen and it worked. He was held in check. So they needed other players to step up. Matt Cross (formerly of Miami and Louisville) had a very good day with 17 points and 9 rebounds. Rahsool Diggins made some huge shots and I was also really impressed by Jayden Ndjigue.
Next up GT will play the winner of Portland and Hawaii. GT would be solid favorites against Portland and slight underdogs to the home Rainbow Warriors. The game will be at 11 pm Eastern time so I hope you’re planning on staying up late. Playing basketball and a bowl in the same day reminds me of New Year’s Eve 2016 when GT beat Kentucky in a bowl and upset UNC in basketball. Let’s hope for a similar result.