UMass men’s basketball remains unbeaten with win over BYU
SPRINGFIELD — It was the perfect homecoming for Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg.
Going up against an offensive-minded Bringham Young squad, it was the No. 21 Minutemen that exploded offensively, reaching the century mark for the first time since 2008 in a 105-96 win in front of 7,331 raucous fans at MassMutual Center.
“I thought it was fantastic,” Kellogg said. “For me, it was nice to have a lot of excitement in the area and have people rallying behind the team. That was special to me to see a sold out MassMutual Center.”
The Minutemen (8-0) rode the coattails of senior point guard Chaz Williams, who set career-high’s in both points (32) and assists (15), with the assist total setting a new program single-game record.
Like most of its games this season, UMass rarely trailed. After falling behind 8-3 early after missing their first five field goal attempts, the Minutemen went on an 11-0 run over a two-minute span to open up a 14-8 lead that they would never give back.
Williams led the charge in the first half with 16 points without missing a single shot. But what was more impressive was his ability to get his teammates involved in the offense as well with eight assists.
“Honestly, I’m not really a big point guy,” Williams said. “I’m more impressed by the 15 assists than anything. Just getting my guys involved and having them feel comfortable with playing.”
UMass played nearly the entire first half without center Cady Lalanne, whose two fouls in the first four minutes earned him a seat on the bench the rest of the half. But the Minutemen didn’t miss a beat when Maxie Esho entered the game, providing an energy and passion that got his team and the largely pro-UMass sellout crowd into the game.
“I thought (Esho’s) athleticism in the paint area got us going in the first half,” Kellogg said. “And not only on the offensive end, but he came up with a couple defensive rebounds and put-backs that, it was like, Maxie’s arms at one end of the rim and everyone else is at the foam.”
That energy spread through the rest of the team, especially when Williams, the smallest player on the floor, went toe-to-toe with the Cougars’ Eric Mika in a shoving battle following a Raphiael Putney foul. The result of the play was three technical fouls, including a double-technical to Williams and Mika.
Trailing 52-41, the Cougars (5-3) opened up the second half with a 6-0 run to cut their deficit to only five points. But the momentum was short lived as Esho and senior Sampson Carter sparked an 11-3 UMass run that all but put the game away.
“After (the timeout), I just realized that now that (BYU) is here, we have to finish,” Carter said. “So I talked to Maxie and said to him, ‘We have to finish everything around the rim,’ and that neutralized the game.”
The business-like performance was just another step in the right direction for an already impressive Minutemen team. Six UMass players cracked double-digit point totals, including both Esho (12 points) and Trey Davis (11) off the bench. UMass needed its reserves to step up, as Lalanne was held to just five points in 21 minutes of action.
“I thought Cady did a pretty good job defensively in the second half of clogging the paint and being big,” Kellogg said. “When the guys start doing what they need to do to just win and not worry about that, we can take one more little jump here, I think.”
The Minutemen won’t be in action again until next Saturday, when they take on Northern Illinois at Mullins Center.
Patrick Strohecker can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @P_Strohecker.