Sports fans in New England were at the end of their collective rope. Vermont fell to Duke in dramatic fashion, Northeastern hung with Florida State before coming up just short, Harvard blew a lead against Colorado, and the Patriots were a complete disaster through two quarters of football. But over on ESPN2, the UMass Minutemen were giving all of us something to hang onto. In the end, it was UMass that had to do the hanging, holding off the Clemson Tigers for a 62-56 win in the Charleston Classic championship.
For most of the game, the MInutemen looked like the better of the two teams and were outclassing their ACC counterpart, particularly inside. Charleston Classic MVP Cady Lalanne continued his strong season with yet another double-double, scoring 20 points with 12 rebounds, which compensated for a total lack of Chaz Williams, who was held to a mere four points. In fact, the only other Minuteman in double figures was Derrick Gordon with 10.
Clemon bench player Devin Coleman led the Tigers on a late run, scoring 10 consecutive points to close the UMass lead to four with 2:40 remaining in the game. Free throws from Lalanne and Williams, mixed with a layup by Raphiael Putney, were enough to push UMass to its sixth win of the season and a preseason tournament championship which, if all goes well, won't be the last championship UMass plays for this season.
On a weekend where good teams blew leads to inferior teams and teams with leads failed to close out games, UMass took care of business. It wasn't pretty, and it was far from perfect, but the job got done and that is all UMass fans can ask for.
So what did we learn about UMass during its time in Charleston? We learned that Lalanne is going to be a problem for any opponent to guard. We learned that UMass can shift gears and blow out a team, like it did against New Mexico. We learned that UMass can win without Williams being the best player on the floor. We learned that Gordon is an invaluable addition to this team and an unbelievable upgrade from the immortal Freddie Riley.
More than anything else, however, we learned that UMass ain't going nowhere.