PHILADELPHIA – It was the game from Raphiael Putney that Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg had been waiting for.
Putney, who came into this season with big expectations following a successful sophomore campaign in which he finished second on the team in scoring with 10.1 points per game, has had a surprisingly quiet and inconsistent junior season.
But on Wednesday night, in the Minutemen’s 61-60 victory over La Salle, all of that was forgotten. Putney submitted one of his best performances of the season as he finished with a team-high 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field. He also finished 3-of-5 from 3-point range, hitting his first long ball since Jan. 2 after a 0-for-14 slump.
He said he felt confident, something that has been noticeably absent from his play for long stretches this season, in which he has averaged just 7.6 points per game and hasn’t found consistency on the offensive end.
“Today was my day,” Putney said. “My teammates looked for me and I just made shots. … I had confidence in myself.”
From the opening tip, Putney looked locked in offensively. He scored the Minutemen’s first four points, faking 3-pointers and driving into the lane with ease to help UMass overcome the slow starts that have plagued it so much in the past at Tom Gola Arena and jump out to an early lead.
But what may have been Putney’s most impressive stat of the night was one that showed up as a zero in the box score. Putney, who has been marred by foul trouble not only this season, but in years past, finished the game with no fouls.
Putney has committed at least four fouls in seven of UMass’ 18 games this season, and has fouled out on three of those occasions. That was not the case on Wednesday night, as he looked dialed in not only on the offensive end, but kept control defensively and avoided the silly fouls that he has been accustomed to taking.
UMass wins despite Williams
Chaz Williams will get all of the praise for the Minutemen’s big victory on Wednesday night for his game-winning layup with eight seconds left, but what may be lost in the shuffle is that he actually had one of his least impressive performances of the season.
Williams finished with just six points on 3-of-7 shooting – including going 0-for-2 from long range – and failed to get to the free throw line in his 36 minutes.
“Basically, he had nowhere to go,” La Salle coach John Giannini said. “The big guy was out there early and he couldn’t turn the corner … we played great ball screen defense.”
Terrell Vinson also played less-than-stellar in the victory, as he finished with just seven points on 3-of-13 shooting in 35 minutes.
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.