Minutemen bounce back, run by GW

By Jackson Alexander

After a tough loss in its previous game to rival Rhode Island, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team rebounded with an 86-75 win at George Washington on Saturday.

Maria Uminski/Collegian

Junior forward Terrell Vinson led four players in double-digits with a season-high 21 points, 14 of those coming in the second half.

Point guard Chaz Williams had 15 points, while junior guards Freddie Riley and Javorn Farrell came off the bench to score 12 and 11 points, respectively.

The victory came at the perfect time for the Minutemen (17-6, 6-3 Atlantic 10), as it had fallen just days before to a weak Rams team. At the time, the loss looked potentially damaging for a team seeking an NCAA Tournament berth.

Saturday night’s victory moved UMass into a four-way tie for second place in the conference with Saint Louis, La Salle, and Xavier. The four teams trail Temple by half a game.

The Minutemen, usually a team known for storming out of the gates, found themselves in trouble during the first five minutes of the game.

The Colonials (8-15, 3-6 A-10) had taken an early 10-7 lead, and one of UMass’ most important players, Raphiael Putney, was on the bench with his second foul. The two fouls would force Putney to sit the whole first half.

“I thought [George Washington] was prepared and ready to play,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg in an interview with UMassAthletics.com.

Despite Putney’s absence, the Minutemen found ways to generate offense and control the half. They regained the lead just minutes later, as Farrell went on a 5-0 run of his own, and gave his team a 17-14 lead.

UMass then went on a 16-3 run to take a commanding 33-19 advantage with seven minutes, 21 seconds remaining in the half. Both Riley and Williams knocked down a pair of 3s during that stretch.

However, the Colonials would not go away, as they scored the next 10 points, and cut the deficit to four in a two-minute span.

The teams traded jump shots and free throws for the remainder of the half, with the Minutemen leading, 40-35.

UMass attacked GW with balanced scoring in the half, as no player surpassed 10 points in the half, but four had at least seven points.

Both teams began the second half the same way they ended the first with Minutemen unable to break away, and the Colonials struggling to make a dent in the UMass lead.

A 5-1 run by the Minutemen at the 13:47 mark reaffirmed the double-digit lead they had lost in the first half.  Putney had returned from his foul-plagued first half and already had a pair of dunks in his time back as they led, 53-42.

Backed by their star Tony Taylor, the Colonials refused to go die down. GW continued to answer every UMass run with a run of its own and, with seven minutes remaining, it had the Minutemen in their sites, trailing just 66-60.

Unfortunately for the Colonials, the six-point disparity would be the closest they would get for the rest of the game. Riley canned a huge 3-pointer – his third of the game – with 5:44 remaining, to extend the lead back to 11.

While Riley’s 3 was a huge moment in the game, it was Vinson’s play in the final 10 minutes that won the game for the Minutemen. He did not miss a shot from the field during that stretch and tallied 12 points.

“He played a great game, that was the best game he’s played in a while,” said Kellogg.

George Washington continued to fight until the final buzzer, but UMass shot well enough from the free throw line down the stretch to earn the victory. In the final five minutes, the Minutemen went 9-for-12 from the charity stripe.

The Colonials dropped their 15th game of the season, despite a huge performance from Taylor.

The senior guard did everything in his power as he scored a season-high 26 points, and went 11-for-12 from the free throw line.

Forward Dwayne Smith was the only other Colonial in double-figures with 16 points.

The Minutemen shot a season-high 55.4 percent from the field and held GW to a putrid 2-for-16 from the 3-point line.

UMass returns home Wednesday after its two-game road stretch to take on St. Bonaventure (12-8, 5-3 A-10) at the Mullins Center.

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