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Forbes, Massachusetts top Florida in NIT semifinals

Apr 2, 2008 - 3:58 AM NEW YORK (Ticker) -- For the first time in three years, Florida will not win a postseason tournament.

Gary Forbes scored 19 points and Dante Milligan had 17 and 11 rebounds as Massachusetts ended Florida's recent postseason success, 78-66, in the National Invitation Tournament semifinals on Tuesday.

Chris Lowe and Ricky Harris each added 16 points for the Minutemen, who will face Ohio State in Thursday's title game.

The two-time defending national champions Gators held a nine-point lead at the break and led by that same margin early in the second half when Massachusetts stormed back.

"The reason I thought we'd have a chance in this game was if our seniors showed some leadership," Massachusetts coach Travis Ford said. "These guys just have that never-die attitude."

The Minutemen (25-10) took control with a 22-6 burst - capped by an Etienne Brower 3-pointer - to take a 59-51 lead with 7:31 remaining.

Florida (24-12), which was the first defending champion to miss the NCAA Tournament since 1989, closed within five but Forbes scored five straight points for Massachusetts to take a 64-54 advantage with 4:19 left to play.

"We never worry about how we're shooting in the first half," Forbes said. "We went into the locker room knowing we were going to make a run."

The Gators never got closer than six the rest of the way, as UMass made 10-of-12 free throws in the final 1:35 to seal the win.

After a poor-shooting first half, the Minutemen shot 53 percent (16-of-30) in the second half. The Minutemen also forced 16 Florida turnovers.

Trailing by two midway through the first half, Florida used its defense to fuel an 11-2 run that gave the Gators a 28-21 advantage with 5:01 left in the half.

UMass missed 14 consecutive shots and went over 10 minutes without a field goal before Forbes' layup cut the deficit to five with 2:02 left before halftime.

But Florida finished the half strong. Adam Allen made a 3-pointer and later made one free throw to give the Gators a 36-27 lead at the break.

Marreese Speights had 16 points and 18 rebounds and freshman Nick Calathes added 11, 10 and seven assists to lead the Gators, who shot 4-of-13 from the free-throw line in the second half.

"We didn't shoot the ball particularly well," Florida Billy Donovan said. "I thought their speed and quickness on the perimeter caused us problems."