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Tuesday April 1, 2008Men's Hoops Season Ends With 78-66 NIT Semifinal Loss To UMass

NEW YORK -

Sophomore center Marreese Speights (St. Petersburg, Fla.) had 12 points and a career-high 18 rebounds, but Massachusetts overcame a nine-point halftime deficit to end the University of Florida menís basketball teamís season, 78-66, in the semifinals of the NIT on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

The Gators finish with a 24-12 record and their 10th straight 20-win season, a streak that ranks as the fifth longest mark in the nation. The Minute Men (25-10) advance to Thursdayís NIT championship game against the second semifinal winner between Ole Miss and Ohio State.

Freshman guard Nick Calathes (Casselberry, Fla.) added 12 points, and sophomore forward Dan Werner (Middletown, N.J.) registered his third double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

UMass forward Dante Milligan led all scorers with 17 points and contributed several key blocks late. The Minute Men, who were sluggish from the field early, responded with a 53-percent effort in the second half and outshot Florida, 42 percent to 39 percent, for the game. UMass outscored the Gators, 51-30, in the second half.

Freshman forward Chandler Parsonís (Casselberry, Fla.) jumper at the 15:53 mark in the second half had given the Gatorsí a nine-point advantage, but UMass went on a 14-3 run that trimmed the lead to 47-45 with 11:53 to play.

UMass took its first advantage since the opening minutes of the contest when forward Etienne Brower hit a 3-pointer with 9:49 left. Milligan scored a couple minutes later, then blocked junior guard Walter Hodge (Guaynabo, Puerto Rico) at the other end, leading to another 3 from Brower and a 59-51 lead with 7:25 to go.

UF could not get any closer the rest of the way and finished only 38 percent from the free-throw line, including 4-of-13 in the second half.

The Gators held a 36-27 lead into the locker room and out-rebounded the Minute Men 28-20 in the first 20 minutes. UMass struggled from the field, connecting on only 32 percent of its shots to Floridaís 42 percent.

Floridaís biggest lead in the first nine minutes was four on two occasions, which was keyed by seven offensive rebounds during that span.

UMass took a 19-17 lead at the 12:07 mark on a lay-up by Milligan, but the Minute Men went cold for the next 10 minutes. UF went on a 7-0 run in a stretch that featured a lay-up by Hodge, and the Gatorsí first made 3-pointer by Werner at the 8:48 mark.

UMass missed 12 shots during that span, including seven 3-point attempts. Meanwhile, Florida built a 28-21 advantage on a jam by freshman forward Alex Tyus (St. Louis, Mo.) and a jumper by Speights.

UF head coach Billy Donovan called the Gatorsí first timeout with a little more than a minute to play. Freshman forward Adam Allen (Milton, Fla.) then came off the bench in a set play and buried a 3-pointer. The Minute Men were unsuccessful on their final possession of the first half as time expired.

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