Nine years ago, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team rolled into Springfield in search of a 3-0 start to its season. Against a tough opponent in Oregon, who would later advance to that season’s Elite Eight, the Minutemen earned a victory, 62-58.
Saturday night’s matchup for UMass drew parallels to that game in 2001. Traveling away from the Mullins Center for the first time this season, the Minutemen visited the MassMutual Center in Springfield to face a 2010 NCAA tournament team in New Mexico State as part of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament.
Senior Anthony Gurley led all scorers with 21 points and the Minutemen came away victorious, 71-57, to improve their record to 3-0, their best start since 2001-02.
After coming out flat in its first two games, UMass was anything but in the first half against the Aggies. Behind a staunch defensive and rebounding effort, the Minutemen catapulted to a 13-2 lead that increased to a 21 point advantage by halftime.
“We jumped on them early and we did a great job on the defensive end of the floor,” coach Derek Kellogg said. “We shared the ball offensively, and they never took command of the paint, which I was nervous to death about.”
To combat the size and length of the NMSU frontcourt, Kellogg gave senior Hashim Bailey the start at center. Although he got into early foul trouble, the Minutemen still gained a 46-20 advantage in the paint.
The strong effort came in large part from the play of Sean Carter. After a less-than-stellar performance against Sacred Heart last Wednesday, Carter had a solid comeback game.
The senior forward brought a lot of energy to his game, and finished with five points and five rebounds, including a monster dunk late in the first half.
“I thought Sean Carter looked like a man out there,” Kellogg said. “He played tough and physical, and kind of not like he’s been playing. He really came out and gave a good effort out there tonight.”
Following a commanding first half in all facets of the game, UMass came out sluggish in the second half. The Aggies went on an 11-4 run to bring the game within 14.
However, the play of Gurley and the strong return of sophomore Javorn Farrell remedied the mini-runs by the Aggies throughout the second frame and erased any hopes of a late comeback.
After missing the first two games with an ankle injury, Farrell returned for Saturday’s tilt, scoring a career-high 15 points off the bench.
“He’s probably not our best player, but he definitely might be our most valuable,” Kellogg said. “He just gives us one more option to relieve pressure, and really, he’s a good dribble-drive offensive player, where he can get by guys and make plays.”
The Minutemen aren’t through in Springfield, as they will continue in the Tip-Off Tournament on Monday night against Texas Christian, and will hope to use the momentum from Saturday’s win to earn a 4-0 start.
“Last year we had a big-time win against Memphis, and the next game we had a letdown against Boston College, so it’s important that we keep steady progress, just getting better every game, coming into practice every day and working extremely hard,” Gurley said. “And to know that we’re not satisfied yet. We want more.”
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.