March 7, 2009
WORCESTER, MA-The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth's men's basketball team led virtually all the way and defeated host Worcester Polytechnic Institute, 81-68, in the second round of the NCAA Division III Tournament at Harrington Auditorium Saturday evening. The victory allowed UMass Dartmouth to advance to the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA Division III Championships for the first time in eight seasons.
The Corsairs used a 13-3 run to break 5-5 tie and took an 18-8 lead with 14:39 remaining in the first half. Junior forward Brandon Shelton (Cambridge, MA/Rindge & Latin HS/UMass Lowell) fueled the run with a pair of jumpers and a three-pointer. Shelton's jumper and a lay-up by junior forward Matt Walker (Brockton, MA/ Brockton HS) allowed UMD to claim a 13-point advantage, 37-24, with 4:22 left in the first half, but Jeffrey Robinson hit a three-pointer for WPI, and the Engineers converted eight free throws in the final 3:16 of the first half and trailed at halftime, 42-34.
Walker hit a pair of lay-ups at the outset of the second half to put the Corsairs up by a dozen points, but WPI battled back. They closed to within five points at 68-63 with 2:35 remaining on a free throw by Fernando Perez, but Perez missed his second free throw opportunity and Shelton drilled a three-pointer with 2:03 left to make it 71-63. Robinson's jumper cut the lead to six, but senior guard Reece Freeman (Cambridge, MA/Rindge & Latin HS) countered with a jump shot, and UMass Dartmouth converted eight free throws in the final eight seconds to preserve their lead and win the regional championship.
Walker led the Corsairs with 20 points, making all nine of his shots from the field and grabbing six rebounds. Shelton added 19 points, while Freeman added 18 points, seven rebounds, five assists and four steals, while making eight of 11 shots from the field. Adam Lirette led the Engineers with 12 points, while Perez and Robinson added 11 points apiece. Each team had 28 rebounds, and UMD forced 18 turnovers while committing 13 and made 58.5 per cent of their shots from the field.
"It was a great ballgame," said UMass Dartmouth Head Coach Brian Baptiste. "At the end of the game when the game was on the line, we made a lot of big stops. We played with a lot of character and confidence tonight. We talked about those things before the game, not to get down on yourself. We kept digging in and playing hard, and that was a key to the win."
UMass Dartmouth improved to 27-3 with the victory, while WPI dropped to 21-6 with the defeat. The Corsairs advance to next week's regionals, at a time and place to be announced Monday. They will play again next Friday evening.