Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Tommy Burris' 3-pointer a shot to remember for UMass Boston at Holy Cross
The funny thing is, as big a shot as it was, Tommy Burris' overtime jumper last week did not count — at least, not in the record books.
The freshman guard at UMass-Boston hit a 3-point basket with 1 minute, 31 seconds left in overtime that put the Beacons ahead for keeps in a stunning 69-66 win over Division I Holy Cross.
"At halftime, we were only down by eight," Burris said. "We had the confidence that we had a chance to win that game."
The game, for the Division III Beacons was considered an exhibition contest and did not count in their standings. For the D-I Crusaders, however, it was a game that they were very much looking forward to putting in the left-hand column. After all, Holy Cross had lost its first seven games before beating Mercer on Dec. 2. Unfortunately for the Crusaders, they came back and lost at San Diego on Dec. 7.
UMass-Boston, meanwhile had opened 4-1 and was 5-2 when it traveled to the Hart Center in Worcester.
For his part, the former Wahconah standout had played in four games for UMass-Boston, but had yet to put the ball into the basket. So it is a little ironic that while his shot beat Holy Cross, it isn't part of the official record.
Burris plays for Jason Harris, who is in his fifth season as the UMass-Boston head coach. One of Harris' assistants is former MCLA head coach Jamie Morrison, who is in his third year in Boston.
Now, as to that shot.
"I take that shot every day in practice, so when the moment came, I was ready to take it," Burris said, when I reached him on campus. "It was a matter of taking the shot and making it."
The game was tied at 59-all after regulation. The Crusaders took the lead in OT on a 3-point hoop by Joe Pridgen with 3:48 left. One minute later, Dasan Cinelli's trey tied the game at 62.
Blake Verbeek put Holy Cross ahead when he made two free throws. He was fouled in the act by Burris after missing a jumper and his first follow-up. Verbeek made both free throws and Holy Cross was up 63-62 with 1:57 left.
Twenty-six seconds into the Beacons' next possession, Charles Mitchell fed Burris for the biggest shot of his very young college career.
"I was shocked too. I didn't know it was going in," Burris said. "There was a 6-10 closing out and I saw it go in."
And as to it not being part of the permanent record?
"I know," he said with a laugh, "but I'll count it too."
This wasn't the first time Holy Cross had been beaten by a New England Division III team. In fact, it was 16 years and four days since the last time it happened.
Mike Crotty was a starting guard on a Williams College team that knocked off Holy Cross 78-71 in regulation back on Dec. 4, 2003. It was Williams' 24th consecutive win, as the Ephs were coming off a 31-1 season and an NCAA Division III national championship the previous March.
Crotty had 23 points, was 6 of 8 from 3-point range and had six assists. Chuck Abba had 21 points, was 5 for 7 from outside the arc, while Ben Coffin had 19 points and eight rebounds.
Williams made more 3-point baskets (12) than Holy Cross attempted (9). Coach Ralph Willard's Crusaders were 1 for 9 from long range.
"I do remember getting on the bus, and halfway through [the trip], talking to Chuck and saying 'We're going to play a D-I team,'" Crotty said, when I reached out to him after this year's Holy Cross loss. "It didn't dawn us on us a lot until then. You get to the arena and it's a little bigger. I remember some of us brought our computers and we were going to do some work. We didn't get a lot of work done on the bus ride home."
Holy Cross led 2-0 before Williams scored 11 straight points to take the lead. The Crusaders weathered that gut punch and took a 20-19 lead thanks to a 14-2 run. Coach Dave Paulsen called time out with 7:22 left.
Williams came out of the timeout and hit three consecutive treys — two by Crotty and one by Abba. There were two ties and three lead changes in the game. But after that 9-0 spurt, Williams never trailed again. In fact, the largest Holy Cross lead was two points.
"When we retook that lead, we never relinquished it," Crotty said. "They did make a little charge there in the latter points of the first half. You've got to remember, we had four starters and six or seven guys who played significant minutes on a 31-1 team the year before. We were [undefeated]. We were the No. 1 team in the country and quite frankly, I don't think we had any thoughts that we didn't belong.
"Certainly, after six or seven minutes, we knew we belonged. After that, we did what we did."
Williams torched Holy Cross in the second half, shooting 66.7 percent from the floor and going 6 for 8 from 3-point range.
Crotty played all 40 minutes for Williams, Coffin played 32, while Abba and Jaris Cole each played 31 minutes. Coincidentally enough, two of the Ephs in the box score are connected today. Tucker Kain is part of the ownership group of Los Angeles Football Club of Major League Soccer and Will Kuntz is an executive with the club.
"Yes, that would be No. 2 next to the national championship" win, Abba told me. "We lost four really strong seniors from the year before, but we had a really strong team coming back. That was one we circled when we got our schedule in September.
"We were ready to play that game. I would say we felt pretty confident going into that game that we would be right with them."
It's a memory the members of the 2003-04 Ephs still take with them, and it will be a memory that Tommy Burris' UMass-Boston teammates will also always remember.
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at@howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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