Tradition was heavy in the air as the Massachusetts men’s basketball team took the court on Saturday afternoon. The team survived a late scare to defeat in-state opponent Holy Cross, 83-76, in the first UMass game at Curry Hicks Cage since Jan. 29, 1993.
“It was great to be back in the Cage,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg, who scored the first points in the last game at Curry Hicks Cage before Saturday. “I thought, ‘what a treat for the players to have a really jammed environment.’ It was great to see the Cage rocking and rolling, the band playing and just a lot of old-school memories.”
The crowd was hyped up for the first UMass game in the historic arena in over 17 years.
“That was unbelievable, to walk out there and see the place jam-packed,” Kellogg said. “It was an atmosphere like the last time there was a game [there].”
The Minutemen were paced by senior guard Anthony Gurley, who scored 24 points on a variety of twisting drives to the basket. Gurley also showed off his precise touch from outside, as he went 2-of-2 from beyond the arc en route to another victory.
Sophomore guard Freddie Riley came up big for the Minutemen as well. He provided a spark off the bench, coming up with 17 points, including a 5-of-9 mark from behind the 3-point line. Riley stopped several Holy Cross rallies with big 3-pointers against the Crusaders’ zone defense, including two on consecutive possessions in the first half.
“I probably should have played Riley more,” Kellogg said. “He got on one of those rolls and really gave us a huge boost.”
Riley talked about feeling fired up through his shooting streak.
“Yeah, I do [get fired up],” Riley said. “I try not to get too excited and take bad shots.”
UMass led, 35-29, at the half, and expanded its lead to 24 points before a late Holy Cross charge cut the lead to four points with 1:41 to go. Gurley showed his veteran mettle though, as he came through with a clutch dish to forward Sampson Carter for an easy layup, and then made two clutch free throws to ice the game.
“Holy Cross did a great job,” Kellogg said. “I’m not sure if it was I subbed a few guys in, or I pulled back on the reigns just trying to get the win. It really got my heart going there.”
Gurley also commented on Holy Cross’ run at the end of the game.
“I’m very glad we got the win,” Gurley said. “We thought we had it going, and they kept fighting and made their run.”
The Minutemen started the game off in a full-court press and used its superior length, depth on the bench and athleticism to frustrate the Crusaders.
Every UMass player on the roster played in the game, and together the team forced 19 turnovers and had Holy Cross confused and out of sync. Forward Terrell Vinson was especially important for the Minutemen, as he came up with two steals to lead the team.
Guard Devin Brown was the top performer for Holy Cross. He consistently worked his way to the line and made his free throws, going 11-of-11 from the stripe. Center Andrew Keister was also big for the Crusaders, adding 16 points and 11 rebounds
The Minutemen return to action on Dec. 1, as they square off with the Quinnipiac Bobcats in the TD Bank Sports Center in Hamden, Conn., at 7 p.m.
Ben Lambert can be reached at email@example.com.