Men’s hoops holds on, defeats East Carolina

By Jackson Alexander

After putting together one of the best offensive and defensive first halves of the season, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team nearly lost the 19-point halftime lead it had built.

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

The Minutemen (7-3) earned their ugliest win of the season as they escaped with a 63-58 win versus East Carolina in Greenville, N.C.

The game went down to the final minute, but a Chaz Williams steal with 24 seconds remaining sealed UMass’ seventh win of the season.

ECU trailed 61-58 with the ball in its hands when Williams came up with the theft, ensuring that the Pirates would have no opportunity to hit a game-tying 3-pointer.

Raphiael Putney was fouled seconds after Williams’ steal and the 6-foot-9 sophomore sunk one free throw, making it a two possession game, and ending any hope of an ECU comeback.

From the opening tip, the Minutemen completely dominated the first half.

For the second time this season, UMass coach Kellogg opted to manipulate the starting lineup for reasons other than injuries. Jesse Morgan and Putney joined Williams, Terrell Vinson, and Sean Carter in the starting five, and took the place of Freddie Riley and Javorn Farrell.

The revamped lineup looked good early on as UMass jumped out of the gates, and held a 21-12 advantage, nine minutes into the first half. From that point on, the Pirates couldn’t cut the deficit below 10 as UMass embarked on a 17-4 run, extending the lead to 38-16.

Riley starred during that stretch as he bombarded ECU with 14 points on four 3-pointers and a mid-range jumper.

When the halftime buzzer sounded, the Minutemen held a commanding 40-21 lead. The 21 points allowed by UMass was its best defensive first half all season.

The Minutemen were also clicking on all cylinders on the offensive end as they shot 15-for-28 from the floor, including an efficient 5-for-11 from the 3-point line.

The second half was a completely different story as East Carolina outscored the Minutemen 37-23 in the second half, forced them to commit 13 turnovers and defended tightly from the perimeter (1-for-7 on 3-pointers).

Staring at the potential of an embarrassing home upset, the Pirates came out in the second half with new-found energy, going on a 13-2 run in the first four minutes of the half. From this point on both teams went back and forth as UMass lead fluctuated between eight and four points for the next 12 minutes.

Then with just under two minutes remaining, the Pirates made their run. Paris Campbell nailed a 3-pointer to cut the lead to three, the lowest it had been since early in the contest.

However, the Pirates didn’t get closer than three points over the final two minutes.

Williams, UMass’ leading scorer on the season, had perhaps his worst game so far in the campaign scoring 10 points on 4-for-11 shooting. He also committed a season-high 10 turnovers.

Overall, the Minutemen didn’t fix the turnover problems Kellogg had hoped they would as they committed 24 in the game.

Riley’s 14 points led all scorers, but surprisingly, he hardly saw the court in the second half. Riley and Williams were the only Minutemen to score in double-digits but Carter and Putney each added nine points apiece.

ECU’s furious comeback was led by Darrius Morrow, who tallied a team-high 13 points. Unfortunately for the Pirates, he fouled out with two minutes and 13 seconds remaining in the midst of their comeback.

Helping Morrow offensively was Maurice Kemp who recorded 12 points, while Miguel Paul and Shamarr Bowden each added 10, respectively.

In addition, Erin Straughan hauled down a game-high 10 rebounds, five of those coming in the offensive form. The crashing of the boards was a huge reason for the Pirates comeback as they collected 12 offensive rebounds in the second half.

The Minutemen will play their final game before an eight-day layoff on Friday when they meet Siena. The game will be played at a neutral site in Springfield at the MassMutual Center.

Jackson Alexander can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Alexander.