Veteran leadership offers steady hand in UMass’ win
The Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s 85-69 victory over Youngstown State wasn’t flashy, nor was it ever in doubt.
UMass carried itself with a business-like manner, spending all but one minute, 23 seconds of the game tied or leading. Four different starters finished in double figures. The fifth, Derrick Gordon, finished with nine points.
Despite turning the ball over 19 times and leading by just eight at halftime, the Minutemen came out in the second half and soundly discarded the Penguins. It was the type of cohesive, mature effort that UMass coach Derek Kellogg expected out of a team laden with veteran leadership.
“I didn’t raise my voice really and go crazy,” he said. “It was just like, ‘Are we trying to do something? What do you guys want to do with this game and this season?’”
His team responded. UMass’ lead never fell below six points it and cruised in the latter stages of the game.
“I would say that we’re more mature than we might’ve been last year and the year before,” Kellogg said.
Senior point guard Chaz Williams stood at the forefront of the victory. Williams scored 13 points and tallied seven assists in the second half alone while acting as an extension of the coaching staff on the floor.
“He’s been around me and I’ve been around him long enough to, I don’t want to say put the game in his hands, but tell him what we’re trying to do,” Kellogg said. “He knows the plays that kinda fit into those situations and we’ve kinda worked together to make sure that is all kinda comes together.”
It was Williams who assisted on Sampson Carter’s 3-pointer with 11:39 remaining to stretch the lead to 54-45. Williams assisted Derrick Gordon on a transition layup four minutes later to make it 59-49, the last time the lead dipped below double digits. His ability to find various teammates and make the right play calls at the right times allowed the starting offense to operate at full potential.
“It’s just knowing that we’re all playing together,” Williams said. “Years ago it’d just be one or two guys in double figures and then the rest is just single numbers but now it’s like you see us growing as a group.”
That growth is evident across the entire front-court for UMass.
Cady Lalanne finished with 13 points and 15 rebounds while adding three blocks on the defensive end. His efficiency – he missed just a single shot on 6-of-7 shooting – and his presence on the floor continue to rise.
So too is the presence of Putney. After playing just 17 minutes in the season opener due to foul trouble, he finished the next two games with double-digit scoring. Putney dropped 17 points in addition to seven rebounds, punctuating the game with a vicious one-handed dunk over a helpless Josh Chojnacki of Youngstown State.
“I came out with the mentality to just be patient in the second half, let the game come to me,” Putney said.
It was the type of performance Kellogg expected out of his older players.
Add in Sampson Carter’s 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting and UMass provided a solid, matter-of-fact team effort against the Penguins.
Now, the Minutemen must maintain the consistently as they head south to Charleston Classic in Charleston, S.C.
“We’ll take the win. I really like that we’re 3-0 and we’ll go down to Charleston and play real good competition,” Kellogg said.
“We’re playing a really tough schedule, we’ve met the task to this point and now we’ve got three real big games in four days.”
Mark can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.