Halftime leads work for Minutemen’s basketball team

By Jay Asser

Michael Wood/Collegian

Going into halftime with a lead does more than just give a team a cushion in the second half. It allows players to gain confidence and believe that they are on their way to winning.

Such is the case with the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, which usually attributes wins to a strong first half effort and intensity to begin a game. It’s no coincidence then that the Minutemen (13-8, 5-3 Atlantic 10) are a perfect 10-0 this season when entering the locker room at half with a lead.

“That right there tells you when we come out and play hard and we go at the team first, we’re definitely a better team and that’s how we win games,” UMass guard Javorn Farrell said of the statistic after defeating Rhode Island on Sunday.

Conversely, the Minutemen struggle when entering the second period in a deficit. The tough starts usually carry into the second half and comeback wins have been hard to come by for UMass. One exception this year was the season-opener against Rider, when the Minutemen rallied from being down 22 points early in the second period to win, 77-67. That, however, has been it as far as comeback wins.

Farrell, along with the rest of the UMass squad, knows it’s especially important for this team to come out swinging at the opponent.

“We go out in some games, we start off with a lot of energy, go play hard and that’s how we play and that’s how we’re supposed to win,” Farrell said. “Other games, we come out flat and we see ourselves getting in a hole early.”

Since the start of A-10 play, coming out strong in games in order to win has held to be even truer for the Minutemen. In all three of its conference losses, UMass has entered halftime with an average deficit of over 10 points per game. In each of those contests, the Minutemen lost by 16 or more points. Two of those losses though, came against Xavier and Richmond, two strong programs who have been to the NCAA tournament multiple times this past decade.

On the flip side, UMass has averaged a lead of over eight points heading into the intermission in A-10 games they’ve won this season.

“Since conference play has started, we’ve come out and played pretty good the first half, with the exception of the Xavier game,” Farrell said. “So, we’re getting a better feel for how to come out.”

A good example of UMass’ mentality when leading at halftime came in the last home game against Rhode Island on Sunday. Despite hitting their stride to begin the contest, the Minutemen cooled off towards the end of the first period and allowed the Rams to climb back in the game.

On its last possession of the half with a tied game, however, UMass received a much-needed 3-pointer from guard Anthony Gurley as time was winding down to take a three-point lead into the locker room.

To the Minutemen and UMass coach Derek Kellogg, that shot sparked a strong second-half performance which led to the victory.

“I thought that gave us a good boost and some confidence coming into the locker room,” Kellogg said after the win. “Sometimes as a coach, you go into the locker room at half with a different kind of vantage point. Being up three, having Anthony [Gurley] and Javorn [Farrell] not played a lot of minutes, I thought that we were good shape, at least energy-wise that we’d be able to come out with energy.”

Since that contest though, the Minutemen dropped the first game of a two-game road trip against Saint Louis after trailing by eight points at halftime. As they look to climb the standings in the A-10, UMass will look to sustain a consistent start to games.

Jay Asser can be reached at [email protected]