"They refused to lose."
-- Drexel coach Bruiser Flint on the University of Massachusetts, after the Minutemen earned a trip to Madison Square Garden by overcoming a 17-point second-half deficit on March 20 to defeat the Dragons in Philadelphia in the NIT quarterfinals
They were words that harked back to another time, another place. They were words that spoke to the best of times -- the first sweet success -- and to the worst.
They spoke of Original Win, and Original Sin.
So perhaps it was appropriate that Derek Kellogg's UMass team was packing its fighting spirit for the NIT semifinals, where it hopes to take a bite out of the Big Apple in, of all places, the Garden.
At Madison Square Garden, the true history of UMass basketball is written. The UMass campus, of course, is located more than 150 miles away. In Amherst, you will find the lovingly quirky Curry Hicks Cage (home of UMass hoops from 1931 to 1993), and the larger, more comfortable, more sterile Mullins Center (home ever since).
Over the years, the Minutemen have played just 22 games at Madison Square Garden, the self-proclaimed "world's most famous arena." But it is here where the UMass basketball program is best defined: what it has won, what it has lost, what it has refused to lose.
And it is here where this unique UMass team of 2011-12 plays in the final four, beginning Tuesday night against Stanford. True, it's not the Final Four of the NCAA (pitting UMass expatriates John Calipari and Rick Pitino against each other), but make no mistake: Reaching the NIT semifinals is no small achievement for this team.
The trip to the Garden represents a homecoming not only for UMass' tiny power plant of a point guard, Chaz Williams, but for the program as well.
"You hear so much about the place," said Kellogg, who as a UMass point guard a generation ago played at MSG (with Calipari as his head coach and Flint as assistant). "It's incredible to actually walk through those doors and be on the floor. The lighting there almost puts you on stage. I think every kid you talk to is excited to play in New York City at Madison Square Garden. There's a great mystique."
CLICK HERE to read Marty Dobrow's look at UMass at Madison Square Garden, past and present.