In losses to Temple and then St. Bonaventure last week, Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg wasn’t happy with Cady Lalanne’s energy.
Sure, the sophomore center had dominated the first half of each of those games – scoring 12 points in the first 20 minutes of each contest – but it was clear that, whether it be fatigue or trying to fight through pain, Lalanne couldn’t quite carry over that intensity to the second half.
But after Saturday’s win over Dayton, consider Kellogg pleased.
In perhaps his finest performance yet as a Minuteman, Lalanne put the entire package together as he finished with a career-high 22 points – including going 8-for-9 from the free throw line – and added 14 rebounds in a career-high 35 minutes to help lift the Minutemen in their 76-66 victory over the Flyers.
“Probably the best big guy we’ve played all season,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said of Lalanne. “It was a dominating performance, he completely controlled the game with his performance on the glass, 8-for-9 from the foul line. I give him a lot of credit.”
After making his first start since Dec. 1 in Wednesday’s loss to the Bonnies, Kellogg gave Lalanne the starting nod again Saturday. And from the jump, the big man began his dominating performance, scoring the first points of the game on a layup on his way to a game-high 12 first-half points and seven rebounds.
But there was still a case of ‘remains to be seen’ with Lalanne, who had struggled all season long to play well in big minutes. After offseason foot surgery, it’s been a long road back not only to get his foot healthy, but also get back into game shape.
That was all too apparent in the losses to Temple and SBU. After scoring 12 points in the first half of both of those games, Lalanne’s endurance couldn’t help him mirror those numbers in the final 20 minutes. He scored 0 points in the second half against the Owls and then only managed four against the Bonnies while getting into foul trouble.
But Saturday’s version of Lalanne didn’t look like those. He scored 10 points, grabbed seven more rebounds and played every minute of the second half as he looked every bit as dominant as his coaches and teammates expect him to be.
Kellogg said he had thoughts of taking Lalanne out, but ultimately decided not to.
“I had it going through my head about four or five times to get him out for a blow and then I just went with my gut instincts and said forget it, he’s going to mature real fast this game,” Kellogg said. “He’s going to learn how to play hard for 35 minutes.”
Lalanne said it was important for him to have a strong second half, especially after not doing so in his last two games.
“I was a little disappointed in myself too because I thought I should have brought a little more energy in the second half,” he said. “But (Kellogg) got to me and said I have to play harder in this second half than the first half.”
Not only were his teammates looking for him in the post, but Lalanne’s play was also crucial in UMass’ ability to gain extra possessions. Kellogg said one of the keys of the Minutemen’s performance to close the game down the stretch was Lalanne’s ability to grab offensive rebounds and convert them into points.
With 3:35 left in the game, Lalanne cleaned up a missed layup from Raphiael Putney and eventually made two free throws out of it to increase the UMass lead to four. Then, after a Freddie Riley missed jumper, Lalanne got the rebound, got fouled and converted two free throws to extend the lead to six points with 2:53 remaining.
Lalanne finished with seven offensive rebounds, and Kellogg doesn’t think he’s even reached his ceiling yet.
“I actually think he’s still has another gear or two that he can play at,” he said.
Chaz Williams agreed.
“Twenty and 20 guy, every night,” Williams said. “That’s what I expect from him.”
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.