UMass hangs on for win at George Washington
WASHINGTON – The celebratory screams leaked out of the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s locker room following its 67-61 victory over George Washington, with coach Derek Kellogg’s being the most recognizable.
The satisfaction, evident on the faces of a battered Minutemen team in the waning moments of Saturday’s win, carried over into the subsequent press conference. For a team that entered as a loser in four of its last seven games, the victory over a Colonials squad which was previously undefeated at home was one of the most impressive of the season.
“I told them after the game, I’m really proud of this group,” Kellogg said. “To come back and show the character I know these guys have was nice to see. I wanted to see these guys play well and compete on every possession of play and I thought we did that this afternoon.”
UMass battled through a myriad of potential detractors. The Minutemen shot just 12-of-26 from the free throw line and were 5-of-15 on 3-pointers. They maneuvered through the second half while managing the minutes of both Chaz Williams and Sampson Carter, who both had four fouls. Kellogg’s bench took a hit as well, as Maxie Esho fouled out with seven minutes, 52 seconds left and Trey Davis limped through the second half after receiving a knee to the thigh in the first half.
All those issues piled up as George Washington forced its way back into the game. Williams went to the bench after his fourth foul with 11:31 left in the game and his team staked to a 49-40 lead. He returned at the 6:50 mark. UMass led by a single point, 55-54. In front of an amplified, sold out Smith Center crowd, the Minutemen somehow found a way to hang on.
“We’re just happy for a win, we needed a win,” Kellogg said. “We need to get what it feels like to win a big road game against a high-level team.”
Williams later added, “We needed a win, period.”
The Colonials took a 56-55 lead with 6:10 left on a Patricio Garino layup. But UMass’ Derrick Gordon answered with a basket on the following possession. The remainder of the half played to that tune as both team’s traded blows back-and-forth.
The Minutemen outlasted George Washington, ironically enough, with shaky free throw shooting. UMass’ final eight points of the game came at the line. But the Minutemen clamped down defensively, shutting the Colonials out from the floor over the final 5:17 of play. The Colonials managed just two points via free throws. They shot just 37 percent for the game.
“I thought we locked up defensively and made the game hard for them,” Kellogg said.
Williams, who finished with eight points in 27 minutes and played through a back injury, noticed George Washington made a conscious effort to single him out on defense. While it made it difficult to remain aggressive, the Minutemen held together.
“I noticed they were trying to go 1-4 low after I got the fourth foul,” Williams said. “They were trying to isolate me and pick up my fifth. … Coach said, ‘You gotta be smart out there’ so I just wanted to stay out on the floor and help my team win.”
UMass got a strong game from Carter, who led the team with 20 points and emerged as a consistent scoring threat. He scored 12 points in the first half and made 4-of-5 3-pointers.
“Sampson really was the guy who got us going in the first half,” Kellogg said. “(He) made some open shots, some good plays to the rim, and was it nice to see him play with a little athleticism or bounce.”
The Minutemen led by as much as 10 in the first half but took a 32-29 lead to the locker room at halftime. They pushed the lead to as many as 11 points in the second half before George Washington mounted its comeback.
Garino led the Colonials with 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting. Isaiah Armwood added 16 points and eight rebounds. Gordon led UMass in minutes played with 38 and added 11 points.
It’s a relieving victory for UMass, which heads back to Amherst with time to recuperate. The Minutemen don’t play again until they host Virginia Commonwealth on Friday.
“We’re happy to come away with a victory and we’re gonna go home and enjoy it for a little while and then get ready for VCU on Friday night,” Kellogg said.
Mark Chiarelli can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.