UMass defeats Dowling, 80-78, in exhibition game

By Jay Asser

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mhoopAIn its first action of the 2009-10 season, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team came out showing rust in its preseason exhibition tilt with Dowling at the Mullins Center on Saturday night.

Despite being heavily favored, the Minutemen took nearly half of the first period to settle in while the Golden Lions took an early 15-3 lead eight minutes into the game. Dowling didn’t keep UMass quiet for long though, as the Minutemen fought back in the second half to win, 80-78.

UMass coach Derek Kellogg wasn’t dissatisfied with his team’s performance, but instead saw the exhibition as a good way to gauge them.

“[Dowling], at this stage, was a little more prepared than we were,” Kellogg said after the win. “It was good for us to get to see where we are as a team and a program.”

With under four minutes remaining in the contest, UMass applied its full-court press and forced four turnovers in Dowling’s backcourt in the span of a minute to tie the game at 75.

When the Golden Lions finally advanced the ball past half court with under two minutes remaining, they were unable to take the lead as they went 3-of-9 at the free-throw line.

Junior guard Ricky Harris, who scored a team-high 28 points, converted 1-of-2 at the line with two seconds remaining to give UMass the two-point lead. After missing the second, Dowling attempted a hoist from half court that was off the mark to give the Minutemen the closely-contested win.

Kellogg felt his team could improve in a lot of areas, but was pleased with the toughness they showed down the stretch.

“I told these guys, ‘you want to get people in the seats, you want to get the students to come, well then you play as hard as you can every time out,’” Kellogg said. “I think the good thing is we can go forward and up pretty quickly.”

“A win’s a win,” said center Sean Carter, who recorded a team-high 12 rebounds. “We can improve on a lot of things which everyone can see. I’m proud that, at the end of the game, that we stepped up in the last three minutes and started playing defense the way we needed to play it.”

UMass’ dribble-drive offense struggled in the early going as it went 0-of-13 inside the arc and 0-of-10 from deep. Forward Anthony Gurley finally provided the Minutemen with their first field goal, banking a lay up on the left side of the basket.

The basket seemed to awaken UMass as it went on to score 30 points in the remaining 11 minutes of the first half.

Harris accounted for 16 of those points, as he caught fire and scored 10 points in four possessions, shooting the Minutemen back into the contest.

The statistics for the two teams were even across the board at the end of the half, but the Golden Lions held an advantage in all three shooting percentage categories. UMass hoisted 23 3-pointers compared to 13 for Dowling. The Minutemen also struggled at the free-throw line, converting 7-of-12.

In the second half, the game turned into an offensive back-and-forth battle. Midway through the period, the Golden Lions created separation, going on a 13-2 run to take a seven-point lead.

Guard Sean Smith stepped up for Dowling, hitting three shots from beyond the arc and scoring 17 points in the second half to give him a team-high 26 points for the game.

As a team, the Golden Lions shot much better in the second period, improving on all three shooting categories from the first half. They were able to keep the game close, hitting 6-of-14 3-pointers while shooting nearly 52 percent from the field.

The Minutemen, on the other hand, never seemed to find their stroke from behind the arc, as they shot 20.6 percent on 34 attempts.

With UMass kicking off its regular season against Central Florida in Orlando on Friday, the Minutemen know that they must improve and get in form quickly.

“We got a lot of work to do,” Kellogg said. “I don’t know if that’s good, bad, or indifferent, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Jay Asser can be reached at [email protected]