Second half surge carries UMass basketball to 71-62 victory over Boston College

By Mark Chiarelli

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

BOSTON — It took roughly four minutes for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team to undo 20 minutes of subpar basketball Sunday.

The Minutemen stormed back in the second half over Boston College, erasing an eight-point halftime deficit to win 71-62 at the TD Garden and improve to 2-0. A strong defensive performance to open the second half ignited UMass, which went on a 21-5 run to open the final frame of play.

“I think there’s value in every situation,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said following the game. “Probably more so that you can withstand not playing your best basketball and have the moxie to come out and play well in the second half and pick up the win. It’s been two games in a row where we’ve had to claw and fight for wins.”

Minutemen guard Derrick Gordon set the tone on the opening play of the second half. Trailing 32-24, Gordon intercepted a Boston College pass and scored on a fast-break layup. On the ensuing inbounds pass, the Eagles again turned it over, this time firing an errant pass to UMass guard Trey Davis who converted on a layup.

Boston College coach Jim Christian quickly called a timeout, but it did little in stopping the UMass onslaught.

“I think we let the two early turnovers deflate us,” Christian said. “I just think when they made that run, we didn’t respond the way we wanted to.”

Led by Gordon, the Minutemen quickly erased Boston College’s lead. Gordon scored 15 points in the second half on an array of slashes and drives to the rim, but it was his defensive intensity which UMass credited as turning the game around. He turned another steal into a layup shortly after to make it 36-34, and then began to make his mark offensively.

The Eagles went over eight minutes in the second half without making a shot from the field during a span where the Minutemen lead ballooned to 60-48.

“That was our focus coming into the game, that it has to start on the defensive end,” Gordon said. “In the first half we didn’t bring it and we didn’t really have the energy that we needed. We talked before the second half started saying we all needed to be defensive-minded and the offense is going to come.”

“My defensive intensity, I just wanted to bring that spark,” Gordon said.

From there, other teammates worked their way into the offense.

UMass forward Maxie Esho scored 23 points in the game and disrupted the Eagles in the full-court press defensively. He turned his own steal into an easy dunk to give the Minutemen a 43-37 lead and established himself as a presence in the paint, adding nine rebounds.

“We knew that wasn’t our best basketball,” Esho said of the first half. “We knew in the second half, we had to pick it up on the defensive end of the floor and offense would come and the game would change and go in our favor.”

UMass wasn’t overselling its first half woes, either.

The Minutemen made just 4-of-15 (26.7 percent) shots from the field, did little more at the free throw line in a 16-of-24 shooting performance and committed 10 turnovers through the first 20 minutes of play.

Boston College had opportunities to bury UMass – the Minutemen went nearly eight minutes of play without making a single field goal – but struggled to extend the lead. Eagles guard Olivier Hanlan carried the Eagles, scoring 15 points in the first 20 minutes. He scored just three points in the second half.

“That was about as bad as you can play,” Kellogg said of the first half. “I thought we were pretty bad out there. Any time we got some momentum, we did something that was a bad basketball play.”

The Minutemen made a habit of using late-game surges to escape with victories a season ago, and Sunday was no different. UMass benefited from strong performances from reserves Donte Clark (five points, four assists in the second half) and Jabarie Hinds (eight point, three assists in 30 minutes of play) to supplement Gordon and Esho’s strong performances.

It was the second time in as many years the Minutemen knocked off Boston College at the TD Garden, as they won 86-73 a season ago. According to Esho, the game carried extra significance.

“I kind of take it a little personal,” he said. “We’re playing for the state. That’s how I took it, it was a little personal. We’re trying to win, we think we’re the best team in Massachusetts.”

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.