NEW YORK – Every great run must eventually come to an end.
On Tuesday night, the latest one did as Massachusetts fell to Stanford in the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden, ending a marvelous season for the program in which the team finished with an unexpected 25 wins and a deep run into the NIT.
"I'm proud of this team," said UMass coach Derek Kellogg. "I think these guys took us on a ride as a coaching staff, as a program and as a community that was special. I think the guys played their hearts out all season long, did a great job of competing in every game and never quit and never gave up.
The Minutemen seemed to be out of sorts all night long as the Cardinal persevered through some poor shooting and a few second half runs from UMass to hold on for the victory and advance to Thursday night's championship game.
A Chaz Williams runner with seven minutes, 17 seconds remaining tied the game at 52, but Stanford answered with a 13-4 over the next five minutes to put the game away, hitting its free throws down the stretch to preserve the win.
Hampered by foul trouble, especially in the first half, Williams could never truly play his style. He picked up his third foul with less than five minutes remaining in the first half. Kellogg started him for the second half, and although he didn't pick up his fourth until late in the game, it was clear that the possibility of further foul trouble disrupted his performance.
Williams finished with 19 points on an uncanny 18 shots, only dished three assists and gave away four turnovers. At times he tried to play a little too fast and made some uncharacteristic mistakes, something Kellogg noticed.
"I do think he wanted to do a lot tonight," said Kellogg. "I think he wanted to put on a New York City style of performance and he was playing a little bit too fast to start the game. He tried to do a little bit too much.
"But that kind of goes back to his competitive nature in that he wanted to win so bad," added Kellogg. "He dove for a loose ball that he no chance of getting in the second half and cracked heads with the guy. It's just a testament to how's he played all year."
An Anthony Brown 3-pointer with 2:51 to go in the game made the score 63-55 in favor of Stanford and effectively iced the game for the Cardinal
Despite a poor shooting performance for the Cardinal in which the team shot 37 percent, it was Brown who lifted the team on his shoulders, scoring a team-high 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting.
"I've watched him on tape and watched him play on television, and I thought he scored five quick points that separated the game there," said Kellogg."He actually caught Chaz a couple of times with his foul trouble. I thought they did a good job of recognizing that and taking advantage of that."
For seniors Sean Carter and Matt Hill, it's the end of the road for their UMass careers. While Hill didn't play, Carter took his usual spot in the UMass rotation. He scored six points and collected eight rebounds in his last collegiate game.
He said he was proud to be a part of a team as special as UMass was this season and that he was going out while the team was on the rise.
"When I came in here, it was a new program and I knew it would be a rebuilding process so I stuck through it because coach had faith in me and I had faith in him," said Carter. "We just battled every year together and I'm happy to see the program going in the right direction."
While the Minutemen will be disappointed to see their season end, the season went above and beyond expectations for a squad that was predicted to finish 12th in the Atlantic 10 in the preseason. With the unsung leadership of Williams, the surprising season of Raphiael Putney and Jesse Morgan and the underrated, clutch play of Terrell Vinson, UMass is heading into the right direction and will use the postseason run as a springboard into a promising 2012-13 campaign.
Kellogg said he was glad to be part of the ride.
"I was happy where we were picked in the preseason because I knew it wasn't happening," he said. "And then how I saw how the team came together and how they bought into the brotherhood, I didn't think we would be 25-12 quite honestly, but this has been a great ride for me. We did some things that I didn't know were possible."
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MDC_Hewitt and @steve_hewitt.