The Massachusetts men’s basketball team employed an 11-minute defensive stand and held on down the stretch against Saint Joseph’s to earn itself a 70-62 victory and its first back-to-back wins this year.
“I’m happy we got to come away with a win,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “Our guys fought through, started winning the 50-50 balls, rebounding a little better, and we had stretches where we played great defense.”
Kellogg said he believes his team is starting to make strides and become more seasoned.
“We’re growing up as a team, getting more mature,” Kellogg said. “We’re getting better in practice defensively, so that’s carrying over to games, and my team’s looking like they know what they’re doing.”
Up 19-14, with 10 minutes, 28 seconds to play in the first, the Hawks relinquished their lead when they were forced into 13 consecutive missed field goals and six turnovers. Following a 16-0 run, the Minutemen jumped out to a commanding 30-19 halftime advantage.
St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli complimented the UMass defensive effort.
“They were better defensively than they’ve been,” Martelli said. “They were more active and energized.”
The Minutemen defense held the Hawks to 36 percent shooting from the field, including 26 percent in the first half.
After carrying a scoreless drought into the locker room, St. Joseph’s came out enlivened on the offensive end, getting off the scoring snide with a Garret Williamson (19 points) jumper 35 seconds into the period.
Both teams traded baskets until the Hawks shaved the lead down to 38-32 with free throws and a Carl Jones 3-pointer just under eight minutes into the half. UMass extended its lead out to nine with a long-ball by guard Ricky Harris, who led all scorers with 27 points.
With 6:47 remaining, Harris gave the Minutemen their largest lead of the game, driving to the hoop for a layup and a foul shot, which proved to be their last field goal of the game.
Facing a 54-41 deficit, St. Joe’s fought their way back within seven, outscoring UMass, 15-7, in the next 5:30 to cut the lead to five with 1:20 left.
Despite not scoring from the field in nearly the final seven minutes, the Minutemen clamped down to secure the win on the defensive end. Harris was pleased with his team’s ability to win without scoring baskets.
“That’s something that our coach stresses all the time,” Harris said. “We showed some signs of that today. We got crucial defensive stops, we got rebounds, and we got to the free throw line, which is big for us.”
Although they weathered the late attack by the Hawks, center Sean Carter still believes they could be more consistent.
“We need to get to the point where we can play the whole game like that,” Carter said.
Kellogg admired the overall grit of his team’s play.
“We’re playing tougher and it’s evident by the ability to win a game when you don’t play great or perfect,” Kellogg said. “Defensively and on the boards is where we’re really making strides.”
Carter’s long stride pulled down 11 rebounds in Sunday’s victory to help his team win a 44-35 advantage on the glass.
“I’m starting to attack the boards more,” Carter said. “I’m being more active, not standing around and it’s helping us a lot.”
Anthony Gurley provided a spark off the UMass bench, contributing 15 points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes.
The Minutemen’s consecutive wins are the first since mid-December. The team will look to string together three wins in a row for the first time this season on tomorrow at George Washington.
Dan Gigliotti can be reached at email@example.com.