UMass edges Davidson, 73-65

By Stephen Hewitt

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian
Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

If the Massachusetts men’s basketball team wants to gain entry to its first NCAA Tournament since 1998, a signature out-of-conference victory could do wonders come March when the selection committee meets to select the field of 65.

The Minutemen may have opened some eyes a little wider as they defeated Davidson, which was fresh off a victory over No.11 Kansas, 73-65, in a back-and-forth affair on Thursday at the Mullins Center to pick up their fourth win in a row and remain perfect at 6-0 at home.

Jesse Morgan led the Minutemen with 14 points on the night, and was one of five Minutemen to score in double-figures. Maxie Esho scored a career-high 12 points and pocketed four steals off the bench while Javorn Farrell, Chaz Williams and Raphiael Putney each chipped in 10 a piece.

“That was a very good college basketball game,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg in a interview. “I thought we beat a very good Davidson team, [looking at] their record and who they’ve lost to and who they’ve beaten.”

After trailing by six coming out of halftime, UMass marched out of the locker room firing on all cylinders. Beginning with a 3-pointer by Morgan two minutes into the second half, the Minutemen put together a 17-4 run – which included a four-point play by Esho – to take the lead, 46-37.

“In the first half, I thought [Davidson] controlled the tempo and really knocked down shots,” said Kellogg. “In the second half, I thought we were fortunate early on that they missed some open looks and that gave us a little energy to get a run going.”

Following along with the back-and-forth theme of the game, the Wildcats stormed back after the Minutemen’s run, using a 3-pointer from Tim Droney to spark an 8-0 run that gave them the lead back at 47-46 with 11:14 remaining.

But the Minutemen fired back, as Freddie Riley converted on back-to-back 3-pointers to give UMass the lead at 52-47 with 9:17 remaining, a lead that it would never relinquish.

Davidson would cut its deficit to just one with 3:30 remaining, but good defense and big plays down the stretch by the Minutemen opened the lead back up to 10 with a minute left and stymied any chance the Wildcats had to come back.

“We played great defense in the second half,” said Kellogg. “We picked them up full court, wore them down a little bit and we were fortunate enough to make some plays on the offensive end. It wasn’t a perfect game, but I thought we did some good things and beat a very good team at home. It’s showing that we’re making some strides, but we still have some work to do.”

De’Mon Brooks led all scorers with 22 points for Davidson, who were three days removed from shocking No. 12 Kansas on the road.

Early on, the Wildcats picked up where they left off against the Jayhawks, jumping out to a 21-13 lead, which carried over to a 26-17 advantage with 9:16 left in the first half.

A 9-0 UMass run that concluded with a pair of free throws from Esho tied the game at 26 before the Wildcats responded with a 9-3 run of their own to end the half.

The Minutemen will return to action following an eight day layoff when they host Central Connecticut State for their final non-conference test before they ring in 2012 with the beginning of Atlantic 10 play on Jan. 5 against Fordham.

“I think getting this win tonight and having these days off to come home … when we get back, I think we’ll be more at ease and more ready to go in and beat Central Connecticut State,” said Farrell.

Stephen Hewitt can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Hewitt.