Following its victory on the road at Richmond on Saturday, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team currently sits in a tie for second place in the Atlantic 10 with Xavier after a winter break that saw the team go a solid 7-2.
At the helm of the squad is point guard Chaz Williams, whose 15.8 points per game and 5.8 assists per game leads the team, while Raphiael Putney follows with 9.8 points per game.
On Saturday, Williams scored 17 and Putney was held to six, but it was Jesse Morgan who took over, scoring a game-high 20 points to propel the Minutemen (15-5, 4-2 A-10) past the Spiders, 79-68.
UMass jumped out to a 19-12 lead using Morgan’s spark, but Richmond kept it close and narrowed the deficit to just 35-31 at halftime.
A 7-0 run to start the second half helped the Minutemen open the lead up, but the Spiders rallied back with a run of their own to close the gap to two with about 11 minutes to go.
But a Morgan 3-pointer with 6:53 remaining sparked a 16-6 run over the remainder of the game that sealed the victory.
UMass will now await Saint Louis this Saturday for a 2 p.m. tipoff at the Mullins Center, where the Minutemen are undefeated this season.
Highs and lows
Foul trouble and turnovers effectively doomed UMass as it fell to Duquesne on the road, 80-69, last Wednesday.
Five different Minutemen picked up at least four fouls and as a team collectively committed a season-high 29 turnovers in the loss.
“The reality of it is you’re not beating anybody with 29 turnovers,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg.
Despite the turnovers and foul trouble, UMass hung tight with the Dukes for the majority of the game. The score was tied seven different times in a back-and-forth first half, but the Dukes went on two separate 8-0 runs down the stretch of the second half to come away with the victory.
Morgan scored 14 points and Sean Carter added 12 and a game-high 14 rebounds to lead the Minutemen, who were shorthanded down the stretch with foul trouble.
In their final home game of the break, the Minutemen had to erase an early 17-point deficit in order to come out victorious over Saint Joseph’s and preserve their undefeated home record.
UMass came out flat-footed and allowed the Hawks to come out to a 20-3 lead just seven minutes into the game. But after Kellogg called a timeout, the Minutemen responded in the right away, going on a 13-0 run to get back into the game and eventually take a 33-32 halftime lead.
Williams led UMass with a game-high 22 points, added six rebounds and also dished out seven assists, including a between-the-legs bounce pass to Putney, who elevated for a one-handed dunk in a defender’s face. The play earned the No. 8 spot on SportsCenter’s top plays.
Out of the halftime break, the Minutemen expanded their lead thanks to three 3-pointers made by Morgan and Putney in a two-minute stretch that made the lead 56-47 with 7:29 remaining.
The Hawks narrowed the lead to two with less than five minutes left, but Williams made his free throws down the stretch to give UMass the victory.
The Minutemen used a 17-6 run over the last four minutes of the second half to claim an 85-75 victory over Charlotte on Jan. 11.
Putney led the way with a career-high 19 points and added 10 rebounds while Williams also added 19 points of his own. Vinson and Carter scored 18 and 15, respectively, to help UMass extend its nine-game home undefeated record.
The Minutemen opened up a 21-6 first-half advantage to start the game, but allowed the 49ers to bring the game to within six after they put together an 18-8 run. However, Putney scored five of his 12 first-half points in a row to bring the UMass lead back to 11 going into halftime.
Paced by center Chris Braswell’s career-high 31 points, however, Charlotte came back and took a one-point lead with 4:47 remaining. But the Minutemen stormed back and went 13-for-14 from the free throw line over its final run to escape with the win.
Even a 50-31 second-half advantage, which included a 21-6 run to start the half, wasn’t enough for UMass to reverse a large halftime deficit as it fell to La Salle, 82-75, in its A-10 road opener on Jan. 8.
The Minutemen surrendered the most points to an opposition in one half all season as they trailed 51-25 at halftime, but they dug out of the hole and cut the deficit to as little as five with under a minute left. It was too little, too late though, as the Explorers made their free throws to preserve the victory.
“We lost because of us,” said Williams during a postgame interview. “We weren’t following the scouting report and not keying on the right guys. We were not being aggressive and we were turning the ball over too much.”
Williams, Morgan and Carter all scored career-highs in points with 24, 22 and 18, respectively, to lead UMass, but its dismal first-half performance ultimately cost them the game.
The Explorers took advantage of 16 first-half turnovers committed by the Minutemen and converted 10 3-pointers to take a commanding 26-point lead into the break.
In its A-10 opener, a back-and-forth game ultimately concluded in the favor of UMass, as it held off Fordham for an 80-76 victory at the Mullins Center.
The first half featured 10 different lead changes, but the Minutemen opened up a few different runs in the second half to hold off the Rams.
“It was nice to see our team make a nice run to … get a one-point lead at the half and then I thought our guys did a good job in a couple different spurts in the second half to open up a lead,” said Kellogg.
Williams scored a game-high 20 points for UMass, Vinson and Putney recorded double-double efforts, and Freddie Riley and Morgan chipped in 13 and 12 apiece.
Free throw shooting nearly came back to bite the Minutemen. They went 14-for-24 from the stripe, and consecutive misses by Williams with 13 seconds left almost cost them the game. But he rebounded his own miss, got fouled again, and made both to extend the lead to 79-76. Fordham couldn’t convert on its ensuing possession as UMass held on to its sixth victory in a row.
“I felt like I almost blew the game missing the first two so I wanted to [try to] the best of my abilities to get the rebound on the second miss,” said Williams. “Once I got it, my teammates just told me they had faith in me and a lot of confidence in me to make [the next free throws].”
The Minutemen scored their most points in a game all season, as it cruised to a 97-65 win over Central Connecticut State to wrap up non-conference play on Dec. 30.
Five Minutemen reached double-figures, including a team-high 18 points for both Williams and Putney, while Riley, Cady Lalanne and Vinson added 14, 12 and 10, respectively.
UMass jumped out to a 16-4 run to begin the game and never looked back as the Blue Devils couldn’t recover.
“We’ve kind of waited to the second half to have those kind of runs,” said Kellogg. “It was nice to see … the team come out and play well and really jump on a team and I thought Chaz [Williams] spirited that with his play early on.”
The Minutemen doubled their 15-point halftime lead with 6:54 left to go on a Putney dunk, and got their largest lead 4:44 remaining when Javorn Farrell dished it to Lalanne for a dunk to make the score 90-52.
The Minutemen may have opened some eyes around the nation as they defeated Davidson, which was fresh off a victory over No. 11 Kansas, 73-65, in a back-and-forth affair at the Mullins Center on Dec. 22.
After trailing by six coming out of halftime, UMass marched out of the locker room firing on all cylinders. Beginning with a 3-pointer by Morgan – who led with a team-high 14 points – two minutes into the second half, the Minutemen put together a 17-4 run – which included a four-point play by Maxie Esho – to take the lead, 46-37.
“In the first half, I thought [Davidson] controlled the tempo and really knocked down shots,” said Kellogg. “In the second half, I thought we were fortunate early on that they missed some open looks and that gave us a little energy to get a run going.”
The Wildcats would claw back, eventually taking a 47-46 lead, but Freddie Riley canned back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Minutemen back the lead, one it would not relinquish.
“We played great defense in the second half,” said Kellogg. “It wasn’t a perfect game, but I thought we did some good things and beat a very good team at home. It’s showing that we’re making some strides, but we still have some work to do.”
The Minutemen may have come out a little flat and rusty following finals week and eight days off from competition, but persevered and erased a halftime deficit to beat Quinnipiac, extending their winning streak to three.
Down 40-36 at halftime, UMass quickly got rid of that deficit, scored 18 unanswered points and never looked back as it came away with the 72-67 triumph.
Williams led the way with 14 points, while Vinson added 13 and Putney chipped in 12.
After taking a 54-40 lead, the Minutemen seemed to get complacent. Sloppy play and ill-advised turnovers allowed the Wildcats back into the game, who closed the deficit to as little as three with under a minute remaining.
UMass, however, made its free throws, as Putney converted on back-to-back makes with nine seconds left that sealed the victory.
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MDC_Hewitt.