Stanford/UMass first-half blog

Stanford jumps to a 36-33 halftime lead as we live blog the NIT Final Four, live from New York. Josh Owens leads all scorers with 11 points, as we wait to see if Stanford can hang on in the remaining 20 minutes.

UMass band is playing "California Girls". Shouldn't that be our song? Crowd is loud and proud for UMass, so whatever works. Sign seen in their section: "Stanford was my safety school." We're heading into their students and band for the first half, so we'll attack the quieter side of the court for the final stanza.

I always like to check out the pregame shootarounds to see how many shots are falling for our guys. Based on past experience, I think the exercise has some predictive value – maybe I should start placing bets courtside minutes before the tip. Verdict today: it's going to be close. We're shooting neither hot nor lights out.

"Welcome to Madison Square Garden, the world's most famous arena." Most humble, too. Plus, I walked under two blocks of construction scaffolding and past 10 ads for strip clubs on the seven-block walk from Penn Station to MSG. I hate New York City.

Our intro song is Jim Jones' "Ballin'". Really? To the rest of the world, that's like Duke marching out to Tupac.

Andrew Zimmermann, Josh Owens, Chasson Randle, Jarrett Mann and Anthony Brown are your starters as Stanford takes the court in their home whites to a half-full lower bowl. Did you know: Bill Joel and Elton John's numbers are retired up in the MSG rafters.

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First half

Overheard on press row: "We'll see how long it takes someone to hit the rim." Owens gets the scoring started on a baby hook after an ugly couple of shots kick off the game.

UMass shows a full-court press, but Randle breaks it nicely with a crisp cross-court pass to Brown, who drains a three. The UMass coach comes five feet onto the floor to scream at his guys; he's not a happy camper. He's literally yelling to his defenders where to shift as the game plays out, which couldn't be a bigger contrast from our bench's typical demeanor.

Dick Davey gets a PA announcement wishing him luck on his retirement during the first media timeout.

16-minute mark: Stanford 9, UMass 6

The Massachusetts band is playing the "Family Guy" theme song. We commit the cardinal sin of fouling on a three, and Chaz Williams hits all three free throws to tie the game at 9 apiece. Dwight Powell Responds with a 12-foot J and then, off a Jarrett Mann steal, a transition lay-up. Josh Owens completes an and-one and we're starting to open up a bit of a margin at 16-11. Jack Trotter and Josh Huestis enter.

We are looking too strong inside and playing crisply today, so I think it looks good. We've just got to figure a way to get in front of UMass dribble drives – they're having a lot of success driving to the hoop. Sure enough, Huestis makes a layup on a possession that featured two o-boards, we force a turnover, Aaron Bright makes two free throws, and then we force yet another turnover underneath. Bright jiggles in a three off the rim and UMass, down by nine, wants a timeout. We come back in a 2-3 zone, get a stop, Jack Trotter rebounds his blocked shot, and Randle drains a three. UMass should really stop the full-court press, as we're on pace to score 110 here.

12-minute mark: Stanford 26, UMass 14

We leave the starters in despite the 12-point lead; think Coach learnt from the Cleveland State game? With 9:56 left in the first half, UMass commits its seventh foul and Randle makes both ends of the one-and-one. 28-16, and we have five steals already. Both teams run up and down the court and turn it over a few times before UMass drains a deeeep three from dead on. Off some nifty dribble penetration from Bright, Anthony Brown tries a three of his own, but is inches long.

Eight-minute mark: Stanford 28, UMass 19

Also seen in the UMass student section: "UMass Nation, shock the world." Didn't know we were that good. UMass drains another three, Owens misses the front end of a one-and-one and a couple of close shots and tips just bounce out as UMass halves what was a 12-point lead. Heustis is unfazed, following his blocked shot to pick up the rebound – we are doing a great job of hustling after our misses down low today – and making a free throw on the resulting hack. We stay in our 2-3 zone despite the dribble penetration and outside shooting, and UMass, on cue, splits our bigs for a driving layup. Then it's the enemy with a corner three as the crowd is on its feet. UMass has cut the lead to 29-27 on a 13-3 run, nearly matching Stanford's 21-8 run earlier in the half. Anthony Brown hits a jumper, but UMass responds with a monstrous dunk and block at the other end. The pro-UMass crowd is on its feet as the four-minute TV timeout couldn't come at a better time.

Four-minute mark: Stanford 31, UMass 29

Huestis throws it in off a nice in-bounds play, as he was two feet out and unaccounted for, and then we pick up yet another charge, maybe our fourth of the half. Bright then throws up an airball but we force UMass to respond in kind. The Minutemen hold for the last shot of the half and get two free throws out of it, as we head to halftime with a three-point lead. Could be better, could be worse.

Halftime: Stanford 36, UMass 33

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