Minutemen stomp Catamounts

Maybe Steve Lappas should follow Mark Whipple’s lead, and eliminate play-down opponents from his schedule.

Eight days after what the Massachusetts men’s basketball coach declared a “bad loss” to Hartford, the Minutemen appeared rejuvenated following their gridiron-style layoff, as they downed defending America East champion Vermont 76-64 before 2,358 at the Mullins Center.

“I was really pleased with the way the guys responded to our week of practice,” Lappas said. “We had some really hard days in practice working on the things we needed to work on, and I’m glad to see that the things that we worked on and really were talking about were the things that we concentrated on so much tonight.”

“We’re getting better,” junior point guard Anthony Anderson added. “We worked on a lot of things in practice this week, and it showed tonight because we did those things well.”

Anderson led all scorers with a career-high 29 points, while freshman guard Art Bowers chipped in with 16 points and seven rebounds for UMass. Classmate Maurice Maxwell added 14.

2002-03 America East Player of the Year Taylor Coppenrath led the way for UVM with 23 points, while junior Point Guard T.J. Sorrentine tossed in 15, including his 1,000th career point early in the contest.

“Credit UMass, they really smacked us,” Vermont coach Tom Brennan said. “I think we lost our legs in the second half, but that doesn’t take anything away from how they played, because every time we made a run they answered with one big shot after another.”

Trailing by 17 to open the second half, the Catamounts clawed their way back into the game with an 8-2 run. Sorrentine opened the scoring with a straight away three and senior forward Scotty Jones chipped in with a pair of buckets, before a Coppenrath free throw cut the lead to 44-33.

However the Maroon and White again answered on the strength of its three-point shooting. Following a pair of trifectas from Anderson and Viggiano sandwiched around a Jones dunk, the UMass captain connected again from beyond the arc to push the Minuteman lead to 55-35 with under 14 minutes to play.

UVM then proceeded to slice into the UMass advantage again when Coppenrath poured in five points and freshman forward Martin Klimes scored a bucket of his own before an Alex Jensen three capped a 10-4 burst to make the score 59-45.

After the Minutemen answered with five consecutive points from Anderson, the Catamounts switched to a man-to-man full court press and responded with a seven consecutive points to cut the lead back down to 10 at 62-52 with 6:27 to play.

The Catamounts got no closer than seven, however, as after a Sorrentine three made the score 69-62 with 2:10 left in the game, the Minutemen finished the contest on a 7-2 run to ice their second victory of the young season.

“We got a little bit of a big head after St. Francis,” Maxwell said. “But we really worked hard in practice this week and we played like we wanted to play out there tonight.”

Viggiano helped the Minutemen break an early 7-7 deadlock when he contributed three points to a 5-0 UMass run, including a steal and a breakaway dunk at the 13:40 mark of the first half.

The Maroon and White then turned to its long-range shooting to help fuel a 13-6 run that pushed the lead to 25-13. Anderson contributed a pair of three-pointers and a driving lay-up during the stretch, while Maxwell completed the run with a trey of his own as well as a breakaway lay-in.

Anderson then continued his hot shooting from outside. The Lynn native nailed an additional pair of threes before he teamed with Bowers on a 6-2 run to close the half that gave UMass its largest lead of the opening frame.

After Anderson connected from inside the lane to make the score 37-23, Bowers immediately stole the inbounds pass and converted it into two points. Then, following a Coppenrath basket, the Wilmington, Del. native drained the Minutemen’s seventh three-pointer of the half at the buzzer to make the score 42-25 heading into intermission.

UMass returns to action Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m., when it faces Boston College at Conte Forum in the annual Commonwealth Classic.