TBT: The Commonwealth UMass basketball alumni team’s run ends after Virginia Dream comeback

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 07-25-2023 4:44 PM

The emotion in The Commonwealth’s locker room resembled those after an NCAA Tournament loss.

UMass’ alumni team fell 79-73 against Virginia Dream in the opening round of The Basketball Tournament on Monday in Syracuse, New York. The squad had only been back together for a week but reforged old bonds and made even more in the familiar maroon.

“They looked like guys who lost in a Sweet 16 or Final 4 or something. There was some real emotion in there,” said Commonwealth coach Mike Mannix, a Holyoke native. “There were some guys who hadn’t seen another guy on the team in eight years. They shared that aside from being in the TBT, the game and the stage and the possibility of winning money, there were a couple guys that shared the best experience they could have asked for was reuniting.”

Most of the team hailed from the Derek Kellogg era and boasted either NIT or NCAA Tournament experience. Kellogg, now an assistant at Creighton, tweeted that he was watching his guys play.

Six of them played professionally overseas. They planned to lean on a collective understanding against Virginia Dream, which didn’t even enter the tournament field until late last week after The Rhody Way withdrew due to financial complications.

The Commonwealth opened the game with an 11-0 run and extended the lead to 19-2.

“They were in the same boat as us having to figure out how they might play,” said Mannix, the head coach at Wilbraham & Monson.

Chaz Williams led the Minutemen with 17 points and seven assists. Maxie Esho scored 16 points, while Brison Gresham contributed 12 points and eight rebounds.

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Virginia Dream crept back into the game in the third quarter. Mannix called a timeout with 3 minutes, 57 seconds remaining to trigger the Elam Ending. The Minutemen led by one and could set up an out of bounds play needing eight points to win.

The Elam Ending became The Commonwealth’s nightmare. UMass’ alumni team scored just one basket during the final stretch, as Virginia Dream scored nine unanswered points to win and end The Commonwealth’s TBT debut. BJ Fitzgerald sized up Carl Pierre in the half court and hit a pull up jumper to end the game.

Virginia Dream outscored the Minutemen 11-2 to end the game. They also finished the third quarter on a 9-0 run.

Robert Colon, who played Division 2 ball at Winston Salem State, led Virginia Dream with 27 points. He drilled a 3 with 56 seconds remaining to cut The Commonwealth lead to one possession for the first time since the opening few possessions at 59-56.

Virginia Dream took its first lead 61-59 on a Duane Johnson 3 with 8:43 to go. Pierre (10 points) responded with a 3 of his own. The teams traded blows until the Elam Ending.

Mannix drew up an out of bounds play, but the shot clock started early. The officials reset the play but not the clock. As the team went to inbound the ball, the clock ran again. Referees never reset the shot clock despite admitting it was their error. The Commonwealth committed a shot clock violation, and Colon sank a 3 to put Virginia Dream ahead for good 73-71.

Williams later drained a jumper to cut it to 76-73, but The Commonwealth couldn’t draw closer.

The victory earned Virginia Dream an automatic berth in next year’s tournament and a date with defending champs Blue Collar U, a Buffalo alumni squad, at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

The Commonwealth was aiming for that guaranteed invite next year as much as anything. The program plans to make its appearance a yearly tradition.

“Hopefully, we make this an annual thing. This type of team, this type of environment,” Freddie Riley said.

Pierre and Luwane Pipkins are two of the youngest UMass alums on the roster. Mannix envisions them being on the roster for nearly a decade if possible. TBT is celebrating its 10th season.

“As long as they want to stay,” Mannix said.

Some of the team’s top potential players were either injured or committed to other teams, so the Commonwealth may have an even greater talent pool to pull from next year.

“Getting back all together here is pretty special. There’s some guys that aren’t here that want to be that are injured,” Commonwealth general manager Patrick MacWilliams said. “We want this to be a multi year thing.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.]]>