ALBANY, N.Y. – Derek Kellogg said he was disgusted.
Watching his team get out to an ugly start, the Massachusetts men’s basketball coach was unhappy to say the least as the Minutemen sat in the locker rooms at halftime with a 10-point deficit blankly staring them in the face.
But then everything started to click. What was once a 17-point first-half hole turned into a lead midway through the second half and became yet another close, down-to-the-wire finish that seemed to be so fitting for a Minuteman team that has earned all of its victories this season in the closing moments.
The final play was eerily similar to other UMass game-winners. With 24 seconds left, UMass got the ball back trailing by one. Kellogg, with a timeout to burn, yet again let the game’s fate lie in the hands of his players.
And point guard Chaz Williams, like he had been for most of the second half, was more than up for the task.
The junior point guard cut through the Saints defense, drove through the lane and banked a lay-up off the backboard and in with 3.3 seconds left to lift UMass (3-2) to a 64-63 win over Siena (2-5) on Wednesday night at the Times Union Center.
“It’s a play that we usually run at the end of the games, and coach had the faith in me and he didn’t call any timeouts … he left the game in our hands,” Williams said. “I just had to go make a play.”
“It was good to see our guys kind of gut out another win, it wasn’t really the way I envisioned it once again,” Kellogg said. “It’s probably the strangest 3-2 (record) I’ve ever seen in my life. Three last-second game-winners is probably unheard of and unfathomable, but I guess we’ll take it.”
It certainly didn’t seem fathomable in the first half as UMass got out to arguably its worst start of the young season. Coming out after a 10-day layoff from games, the Minutemen couldn’t buy a bucket in the opening minutes and finished the first half 11-for-34 (32 percent) from the field, including 2-of-15 from 3-point territory.
On the other end, the Saints couldn’t miss. UMass had a double team set on national rebounding leader O.D. Anosike, which gave Siena wide-open looks and a 34-24 halftime lead, thanks to 7-of-11 shooting from beyond the arc.
“I just thought the guys were unconfident and didn’t really play as hard as we should and could,” Kellogg said. “That’s really what I let them know at halftime. You can go away and put your tail between your legs or we can come out and scrap and try to battle a little bit.”
The Minutemen seemed to take the latter of their coach’s advice as they bounced back quickly in the opening minutes of the second half.
Spurred by Williams, who finished with a game-high 23 points and added eight rebounds and six assists, UMass sped the pace of the game up and finally started to bury some of its open looks from downtown.
Williams seemed to put the game in his hands and erupted for 14 second-half points, including three 3-pointers to put the game back in control of the Minutemen.
“I was a little disappointed (in the first half) and I didn’t really want to shoot anymore,” Williams said. “But Terrell (Vinson) kept telling me, ‘Keep shooting, they’re going to start going in eventually,’ and they just kept falling so coach kept running the plays and we kept executing.”
After UMass finally retook its first lead since early in the first half midway through the second, the game turned into a nip-and-tuck affair with neither team letting off the gas.
With 2:04 left in regulation, Vinson – who finished with 17 points – fouled out as Anosike went to the foul line, where he made one of two free throws to give the Saints a 63-60 lead. But the Minutemen stormed back, and didn’t let up on the defensive end as they kept Siena from scoring in the final two minutes.
Morgan finished a fast-break lay-up with 50 seconds remaining to pull UMass within one, and then helped on the defensive end to force the Saints into a missed jumper, which set up Williams’ heroics.
“I’m happy that we won, you want to learn from wins,” Kellogg said.
The Minutemen will have a few days of rest before they return to action Saturday afternoon against Miami (Fla.) at the Mullins Center.
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.