NEW YORK — No team aims for the NIT, and after winning the past two NCAA championships, the fall for the Florida men's team was especially steep. But as long as they were here, the Gators figured, they might as well win the thing.
Those hopes ended Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, as Massachusetts pushed ahead in the second half and won the semifinal 78-66.
One week after they erased a 22-point deficit to beat Syracuse, the Minutemen decided the game with a 24-7 run, turning a nine-point hole into a 59-51 lead eight minutes later.
"It's like an ongoing thing with us," said Gary Forbes, a UMass fifth-year senior who had a game-high 19 points.
The Minutemen (25-10) will play in their first postseason final Thursday, facing Ohio State.
The Gators (24-12) were left with a season finale that felt considerably less bitter for the hard work they put in over the past three weeks.
"They gave me everything they had," coach Billy Donovan said, praising his players for their response after he rescinded team privileges.
UMass went more than 10 minutes without a field goal in the first half. Florida led 44-35 with 15:30 left, but Forbes, the Atlantic 10 player of the year, was determined to finish strong in an arena where he played two high school championship games.
"I want to be able to say I won my last college game, and to win it in Madison Square Garden would be a dream come true," said Forbes, a Brooklyn native who spent two seasons at Virginia.
It was his tough, driving layup, tying up Adam Allen with a crossover dribble and bursting into the lane, that capped a 12-3 spurt and tied the score at 47.
It was his assist that pushed the lead to 59-51 with 7:28 left. Forbes drove from the left wing, drew in the corner defender and threw a spinning pass to Etienne Brower, who hit a 3-pointer.
It was his turnaround jumper that kept the lead at 10, beating the shot clock and defender Nick Calathes.
The Gators scrapped but couldn't get closer than six points. Still, a 3-1 NIT record isn't bad, they said.
"We did a pretty good job up to this point," said sophomore center Marreese Speights of St. Petersburg.
Speights led Florida with 16 points and a career-high 18 rebounds, though he was less productive in the second half. He said he will talk to Donovan and his family about whether he should enter the NBA draft.
The Gators were 8-of-21 on free throws and 2-of-12 on 3-pointers. Donovan wasn't too upset. All he wanted to see this month, he said, was progress.
"I think that they tried," Donovan said.
MASSACHUSETTS (25-10): Forbes 7-16 4-6 19, Milligan 8-12 1-2 17, Brower 3-8 0-0 8, Harris 4-12 7-10 16, Lowe 4-11 7-9 16, Correia 0-1 0-0 0, Gaffney 1-1 0-0 2, Bonner 0-2 0-0 0, Glass 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 27-64 19-27 78.
FLORIDA (24-12): Werner 5-12 0-0 11, Speights 7-14 2-5 16, Lucas 2-7 1-1 5, Hodge 3-8 1-2 7, Calathes 5-19 2-4 12, Mitchell 0-2 0-0 0, Allen 1-2 1-2 4, Tyus 1-1 0-2 2, Parsons 4-6 1-5 9. Totals 28-71 8-21 66.
Halftime—Florida 36-27. 3-Point Goals—Massachusetts 5-24 (Brower 2-7, Lowe 1-2, Forbes 1-5, Harris 1-7, Bonner 0-1, Glass 0-1, Correia 0-1), Florida 2-12 (Allen 1-2, Werner 1-5, Hodge 0-1, Parsons 0-2, Calathes 0-2). Fouled Out—Hodge, Parsons. Rebounds—Massachusetts 41 (Milligan 12), Florida 50 (Speights 18). Assists—Massachusetts 10 (Lowe 5), Florida 15 (Werner 7). Total Fouls—Massachusetts 18, Florida 22. A—NA.
Ohio State 81, Mississippi 69: Jamar Butler and Evan Turner scored 17 each, and the Buckeyes (23-13) used a halfcourt trap and an early 14-0 run to win the semifinal. The Rebels (24-11) whittled a 27-point deficit, getting within 75-68 with 1:32 left when freshman Chris Warren hit three 3s on consecutive possessions. But Butler, an All-Big Ten guard, hit a driving layup to help put the game away. Mississippi had the second-most wins in school history.
Information from Times wires was used in this report.