Video by Peter Cappiello.
During its eight-day layoff between games, Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg stressed defensive intensity in practice.
His decision loomed large on Sunday.
UMass (13-5, 3-2 Atlantic 10 Conference) held Richmond (13-8, 3-3 A-10) without a field goal for the final six minutes, two seconds of regulation and used a 14-2 run to scratch its way back from a seven-point hole to squeak past Richmond, 70-65, in front of 5,467 at the Mullins Center.
“I thought our defensive rebounding was better,” Kellogg said after his squad out-rebounded the Spiders, 32-23. “I thought we did a good job of keeping them in front and not giving up so many straight line drives.
“We did a good job of guarding the 3-point line, and that’s important against them. They were 8-for-24, and that’s one of the most important things when you play Richmond.”
Freddie Riley felt the week of practice helped particularly with conditioning, as he played the entire contest from start to finish.
“It paid off a lot,” Riley said. “We did a lot of scrimmaging this week in practice, and I think it paid off with our conditioning and everything, because this is the most minutes I’ve ever played in my career and I didn’t really feel tired out there.”
Holding a two-point lead with 27 seconds left, Riley put home a reverse finger-roll on a back door pass from Chaz Williams to push the Minutemen’s lead to 67-63. Two possessions later, Richmond guard Anthony Kendall’s 3-point attempt came up empty with four seconds left, and UMass escaped with the win.
Williams said he and Riley made eye contact the entire possession, and Riley said he told Williams to look for his cut to the basket.
“When the ball first got inbounded, I looked at Chaz and told him I was going back door,” Riley said. “We just communicated at the beginning of the possession and it ended up being a good play.”
In addition to the emphasis on defense, Kellogg said the back door cut was another topic of discussion as the Minutemen prepared for the game.“We talked about, in the week leading up to this game, for those guys to back door cut, because while they’re switching, a lot of times they don’t see the guy cutting,” Kellogg said. “They did a great job, Chaz did a nice job finding him. That might have been, to this point, one of the bigger baskets of the year.”
Williams led all scorers with 18 points while also dishing out five assists and grabbing six rebounds. The junior also coughed up a season-high seven turnovers, which is something he said can’t happen in the future.
“Most of them were lackadaisical turnovers, not being strong with the ball,” he said. “The team kept the turnovers down everywhere around, so mine didn’t affect us that much, but being a point guard, I can’t have this many turnovers. I’m just going to cut back on it.”
Cady Lalanne pitched in with 12 crucial points on 5-of-8 shooting in 24 minutes off the bench. Sampson Carter also chipped in 10 points.
Wayne Sparrow had 13 points off the bench to lead the Spiders, and Cedrick Lindsay finished with 12 for the game.
UMass was outplayed to start the second half yet again, as has been the case in five of its last six games. The Spiders turned a 34-29 deficit into a 44-40 lead in the opening six minutes of the frame thanks to a 15-6 run.
Kellogg said he wasn’t disappointed in that area, but when asked how to describe how he felt about the problem, he could only shrug his shoulders.
“It’s something that we’re going to fix and continue to get better at,” he said. “I’d like to see these guys come out and really steamroll somebody pretty soon in the second half. We’re going to keep working on it, we’re going to keep talking energy and execution until I get it right.”
The Minutemen now hit the road as they travel to red-hot La Salle – which has knocked off nationally-ranked A-10 foes Virginia Commonwealth and Butler in its last two affairs – on Wednesday. Then, UMass continues down south to Charlotte on Saturday.
Riley felt the upcoming road trip added more incentive to come out and play well in Sunday’s tilt.
“This is a win big for us because we were 2-2 in the conference. If we lost we would have been 2-3,” he said. “It would have dropped us down a lot in the standings, and we needed a big win heading into La Salle because we usually don’t play well down there.”
Stephen Sellner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @Stephen_Sellner.