By Elliott Denman
NEW YORK — They turned back the clock. They registered a reprise of last year’s shocker.
They retained their NCAA “bubble team” status.
For the University of Massachusetts Minutemen, it was that kind of a Friday night at the Barclays Center — they had all the answers, and they were yes, yes, and yes.
Intent on escorting Temple, playing its final Atlantic 10 Conference tournament, to an early exit, as they’d done in 2012, the Minutemen authored a stirring sequel.
Standing tall behind the shortest man on the court, 5-foot-9-inch junior guard Chaz Williams, the sixth-seeded Minutemen (21-10) prevailed over the third-seeded Owls, 79-74. They knocked out Temple in last year’s quarterfinals in Atlantic City, and they did it again.
Williams finished with 28 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field and a 10-of-10 effort from the foul line, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and some suffocating defense on Temple’s Khalif Wyatt, the A-10 player of the year.
“I knew that once we got on top, we’d stay on top,” said Williams, the Brooklyn product who has wowed his old neighborhood fans and friends.
In this taut game of 15 lead changes and six ties, UMass outscored the Owls, 20-12, in the closing 6½ minutes to win going away.
Temple twice rallied to within 2 but each time UMass had the perfect reply.
With the shot clock winding down and 1:32 to go, Freddie Riley hit a sideline 3-pointer to put UMass up, 71-66.
Williams’s two free throws and a rousing Riley dunk with three seconds left iced the cake.
“Now we’ve just got to keep the positives going; I think we can play with anybody,” said Williams. “We had God’s blessing tonight. We’re grateful.”
The Minutemen meet second-seeded and 25th-ranked Virginia Commonwealth (25-7) in a semifinal on Saturday at 4 p.m.
Even with the big win, an NCAA Tournament bid remains no cinch. The “bubble” is crowded.
“I’ll put my faith in the good people who make those decisions,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg. “We just have to focus on VCU right now.”
This was our night,” said “Sam” through his over-size costume.
Williams, who had scorched George Washington (16 points, 8 assists, 3 steals) in UMass’s opening-round win Thursday night, was stellar again — at both ends of the court.
With Williams on him for long stretches, Wyatt endured a 4-for-19 shooting night, but hit 9 of 10 from the line to total 19 points. With Cady Lalanne grabbing eight rebounds and Maxie Esho and Sampson Carter getting seven each, UMass controlled the boards, 40-23.
On top of everything, this was sweet payback for the events of Feb. 16, when Temple came to Amherst and won, 83-82.
. . .
In another quarterfinal at the Barclay’s Center, Treveon Graham scored 17 points, and hot-shooting Virginia Commonwealth beat Saint Joseph’s, 82-79. TheRams made 11 3-pointers to build a double-digit lead in the second half before the Hawks’ frantic comeback in the final minutes fell short. Saint Joseph’s (18-13) pulled within 80-76 with 9.1 seconds left, but Darius Theus found an open Briante Weber downcourt for an emphatic slam to cap the victory.
Butler earned a semifinal spot as Rotnei Clarke led five players in doubles figures with 14 points in a 69-58 win over La Salle (21-9). Khyle Marshall had 13 points, and Andrew Smith added 11 points and eight rebounds for the fifth-seeded Bulldogs (26-7).
Regular-season champ and 16th-ranked Saint Louis (25-6) pulled away early to beat Charlotte, 72-55. Dwayne Evans played through foul trouble to score 25 points on near-perfect shooting.