Backup center Nehemiah Ingram delivered the biggest shot of the game for the men’s basketball team Saturday, just as he had four days earlier.
With the Owls leading Massachusetts by two points in the second half, Ingram was fouled as he hit a layup and converted the three-point play to spark a 12-2 scoring run. The Owls went on to beat the Minutemen, 61-48, and clinch second place in the Atlantic Ten Conference East Division.
Tuesday, Ingram sent St. Joe’s center John Bryant to the floor as Bryant tried to dunk. That foul, coupled with coach John Chaney’s postgame comments calling Ingram a “goon,” set off a week’s worth of controversy for which Chaney was suspended for the regular season and the A-10 tournament.
After the UMass game, acting coach Dan Leibovitz said Ingram showed the fans and detractors he wasn’t just a big “goon.”
“I was happy he was able to get into the game and do some basketball things,” Leibovitz said. “He made a shot and hit a foul shot, so the whole world can see that he can play basketball. He’s not just some guy we throw in the game to rough somebody up.”
The players rallied around Leibovitz and Ingram. They dominated the glass, pulling down 45 total rebounds and an unreal 28 offensive boards. Though the Owls (14-11, 10-4) shot just 33 percent from the field, they forced 13 turnovers and held the Minutemen (15-10, 8-6) to three-of-15 from three-point range.
“It was a pretty easy game to decipher,” UMass coach Steve Lappas said. “You don’t have to even look at the stat sheet. Their offensive rebounding was ridiculous.”
Before the game, Chaney told Leibovitz the team would be judged less on whether it won or lost and more on the effort the players put out.
“You want to see kids bounce back from a tough situation in a positive way, hustling and scrapping, which I thought they did,” Leibovitz said. “We had 28 offensive rebounds. That’s all heart and hustle.”
Victory seemed unlikely early in the game. The Owls trailed, 12-3, after five minutes of play and 22-11 after 11 minutes. They built momentum on the defensive end with four first-half steals and ended the half with an 18-3 run to take a four-point lead at halftime.
“Getting stops and steals gives us our energy, and today we got that defensively,” junior guard Mardy Collins said. “We got some steals, crashed the boards and that gave us a lot of energy right there.”
Collins led the Owls with 25 points and tied forward Antywane Robinson with a team-high nine rebounds.
The Owls said their focus all week was to stay positive despite everything going on around them.
“It was difficult, hearing all the things people were saying, writing us off, saying how we weren’t going to make the [NCAA] Tournament anyway,” Collins said. “So we just had to go out there and play. We really can’t get into all the things outside.”
With the win, the Owls assured themselves a first-round bye in the A-10 tournament in Cincinnati, Ohio, next week.
Ingram was not the only bench player to play a significant role Saturday. Freshman guard DaShone Kirkendoll played a season-high 17 minutes and scored eight points.
Sophomore forward Dion Dacons’ only basket was a resounding breakaway dunk with 1:05 remaining in the game. Ingram’s layup gave him his first points in 10 games.
Temple had 23 offensive boards in their first meeting with UMass on Jan. 5 … The Owls have had fewer than 28 total rebounds in four games this season … The Minutemen had fewer team rebounds (27) than the Owls had on the offensive glass alone … Collins’ seven offensive rebounds were as many as UMass had as a team, and only two Minutemen – forwards Maurice Maxwell and Rashaun Freeman – had that many rebounds total.
Benjamin Watanabe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.