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May 13, 2017

UMass blows out Arkansas-Fort Smith

mhoopBAnthony Gurley’s 15-point first half pushed the Massachusetts men’s basketball team out to a 15-point lead at halftime, and it never lost the lead during its 94-68 rout over Arkansas-Fort Smith.

Despite 40 second-half points to go along with hot shooting (54.5 percent), the Lions struggled to cool down the Minutemen, who finished the game shooting 54.5 percent. Gurley finished the night with a game-high 21 points

“I thought he gave us a great boost when we were a little bit stagnant in the first half,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said of Gurley’s performance.

One of the areas where the Minutemen were most effective was in the paint, where they finished with 54 points. Center Sean Carter (13 points, eight rebounds) shot 5-for-7 from the field to go with three free throws.

“He did some good stuff,” Kellogg said. “When you’re playing Division II teams like that, you need your big guy to be dominant and really change the complexion of the game and I thought he did that.”

Without redshirt junior Hashim Bailey (groin), the Minutemen had to find other big men to relieve Carter inside. On the rebounding end, redshirt sophomore Matt Hill recorded four rebounds in nine minutes, which is the most he’s played since last year’s season opener against Arkansas-Monticello where he played eight minutes and hit a 3-pointer.

Kellogg said he saw many positives in Hill’s game, but the fact that he has limited action in games might have been the reason for his 0-for-2 shooting night. Both shots came on follow-ups.

“He just didn’t quite finish, and I’m not sure if that’s rust or not playing or being injured last year,” Kellogg said. “He just didn’t put those last couple put-backs right in the basket.”

However, forward Terrell Vinson (14 points, 6-for-8 shooting) succeeded in impressing Kellogg with his best scoring night of the season. The freshman wasn’t the only Minuteman to have a career night.

The Maroon and White had a variety of contributions, with five players finishing in double-figures for scoring.

All of those players except Harris finished with season-highs. Riley took nine 3-pointers for the third time this season and scored 12 of his 17 points from beyond the arc.

Now that he feels more comfortable scoring, he believes he needs to become a better defender before he becomes the type of player that Kellogg expects.

“I can score, but I feel like my defense is the most valuable thing that I can bring to the team if it’s a lot better,” Riley said of what he can do to improve.

Kellogg said that, despite winning the game by such a big margin, he found times where the defense still had its lapses. Until Gurley went on a surge late in the first half, Arkansas-Fort Smith kept the game close, even with bad shooting.

The game started as a back-and-forth affair early on with four different lead changes. The Lions’ biggest lead of the game was four points, but UMass responded without much of a struggle and took the lead for good with nine minutes, 10 seconds left in the half after forward Vinson took a fast-break to the basket and put the Minutemen up, 17-16.

A combination of poor first-half shooting (33 percent) and Gurley’s surge gave the Minutemen a commanding lead at the half.

The Lions came out of the locker room with a run of their own and cut the deficit to 12 points, but UMass later went on a 9-0 run and kept the game out of reach.

The Minutemen conclude their home schedule in the Legends’ Classic on Tuesday against St. Francis before heading to Atlantic City, N.J., to face Rutgers and either Michigan State or Florida.

Adam Miller can be reached at amiller@dailycollegian.com.

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