Sophomore Justin Anyijong s tip-in at the buzzer was the difference for the Rockets in a 57-56 victory over Massachusetts, giving the near-capacity crowd at Savage Arena the ending it had hoped for. The win in the first game at Savage Arena since the $30 million renovations were completed improved UT s record to 2-5.
Anyijong s tapper off Tyrone Kent s miss with less than two seconds left inspired the UT students, part of the 7,252 in attendance, to rush the floor and swarm the Rocket players, jumping up and down in celebration.
It was just a great feeling not to let them down, Anyijong said.
In its first home game of the year, UT played with great energy the entire night, shooting 54 percent and forcing 18 UMass turnovers. The Rockets let some of the excitement boil over into carelessness with the basketball, turning the ball over 20 times, but UT coach Gene Cross couldn t have been more pleased with the end result.
I stress and emphasize rebounding and it is appropriate that we won on a tip-in at the end of the game, Cross said. I told the guys in the locker room that this is what we are going to do and this is how we are going to do it.
Kent and Jonathan Amos each scored 13 points to lead the Rockets. Anthony Byrd had 11 first-half points.
Anyijong scored just six points and pulled down seven rebounds, but had a few valuable plays even before the final basket. He took two charges in the final six minutes, helping UT hold UMass to just 24 second-half points.
When we go out there we play team defense, Anyijong said. If one of your teammates gets beat you have to make sure somebody is there to help him.
Down by one point at halftime, UT came out sharper to start the second half and took a six-point lead with 10 minutes remaining on Kent s breakaway dunk. But the Minutemen (1-5) slowly crept back into the game thanks to the play of Chris Lowe (15 points) and Ricky Harris (13 points).
Both teams then went cold, with just two baskets in the final six minutes, both by the Rockets.
It was an ugly duckling of a game, said Cross, that turned into a swan.
UT overcame a turnover inbounding the ball with 27 seconds left after the Rockets had made a defensive stop. With the Rockets leading by one, Kent fouled Tony Gaffney with 16 seconds left and Gaffney made both free throws to give the Minutemen the lead.
Looking for the game-winner, the Rockets set up a play to isolate Kent. He drove down the left side of the lane and put up a shot that rolled in and out. But Anyijong was there to clean the glass.
Both teams played like they were desperate, that they needed a victory, UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. And [UT] just played a little more desperate at the end.
The UT players gushed over the atmosphere at Savage Arena, excited that they still have nearly a full season of games to look forward to in the building.
It was a great environment. It was like an extra 10 points for us, Kent said. We just had to come out and play hard, play together and do whatever it takes to win.
Contact Maureen Fulton at: email@example.com or 419-724-6160.