UMass, No. 6 NC State to meet in Puerto Rico Tip-Off semifinals
Providences Josh Fortune, right, pressures UMass Chaz Williams during the first half of a NCAA college basketball game in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)
BAYAMÓN, Puerto Rico — The matchup that the University of Massachusetts men’s basketball program was craving from the moment the Puerto Rico Tip-Off field was announced is happening tonight at Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez.
The Minutemen will face No. 6-ranked North Carolina State at 5 p.m. (ESPN2) in the semifinal round.
The Wolfpack did little to dampen the enthusiasm around them as they blew out Penn State 72-55 Thursday. UMass held off Providence 77-75 at the buzzer.
NC State freshman T.J. Warren had a breakout game with 22 points and eight rebounds to lead the Wolfpack (2-0).
The winner will advance to the championship Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Tennessee and Oklahoma State play at 10:30 a.m. Friday in the other semifinal.
The losers will play at 4 p.m. in the third-place game.
NC State coach Mark Gottfried hadn’t watched Providence tape but had seen the Minutemen.
“I like UMass’ team. They’re really athletic,” said Gottfried before UMass took the floor. “If it’s UMass, it’s full-court press. It’s up-and-down. It’s that type of a game. I like their team. I really like their point guard. He makes a lot happen.”
The Minutemen won all three previous meetings against NC State — once in Amherst, Raleigh, N.C., and Honolulu.
PADILLAS VISIT — Add a former great UMass point guard to the growing list of fans of Minuteman floor general Chaz Williams.
Edgar Padilla, the point guard for the 1996 Final Four team, lives in his native Puerto Rico. He visited UMass’ practice on Wednesday. He wasn’t in attendance for Providence but expected to be there Friday. His older brother, Gidell, a former Minuteman walk-on, was at the game Thursday.
Edgar Padilla has enjoyed watching Williams.
“He’s a pretty good player. He’s a lot different kind of player to what I was and what Derek (Kellogg) was,” said Padilla, 36. “He’s a lot of fun to watch.”
After a long career playing in the Puerto Rico Superior League, the island’s professional circuit, Padilla is now the general manager of one its teams, the Indios de Mayaguez, the league’s defending champions.
He hasn’t been back to Massachusetts since he was honored in 2009 as part of UMass’ 100 Years of Basketball. But he’s kept track of the Minutemen from afar, especially since Kellogg was hired as the head coach.
“Especially last year, I followed them through most of the tournament. They had a great run and came very close to winning the NIT. I was very, very happy when Derek got the job. He’s doing a great job with the program,” Padilla said. “He has the capability to take the program to where it was when we were there and I was happy to see Lou Roe join him. He could be a lot of help for the kids and the program. The program is in great hands.”
Roe was hired as a staff assistant during the offseason.
Padilla enjoyed catching up with his former teammates.
“I was very happy about that. I had a chance to go to practice (Wednesday) and spend some time with them,” said Padilla, who stays in touch with Carmelo Travieso, Donta Bright, Dana Dingle and Marcus Camby. “It was a great experience.”
Matt Vautour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.