Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass basketball gets fourth consecutive victory with 66-59 win against La Salle

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(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

It certainly wasn’t the matchup that Larry Bird and Dominque Wilkins had in the 1988 NBA playoffs, but on Saturday afternoon it was Donte Clark and Jordan Price that stole the show at the Mullins Center.

Price finished with a game-high 30 points for La Salle, while it was Clark’s 23 points, seven rebounds and four assists that propelled a 66-59 victory for UMass, marking the fourth-straight win for the Minutemen who improved to 7-3 in Atlantic 10 play.

Clark scored 16 points in the first half on a perfect 6-for-6 shooting, including four 3-pointers that looked good the second they left his hand. Clark even gave the classic Michael Jordan shrug after he made his fourth with 10 minutes, 48 seconds remaining in the half. All 4,673 at the Mullins Center knew that he was on fire and Clark was the first one to let you know about it.

“I was just playing the game the way I usually play it,” Clark said. “I’m always ready (to be the guy), that’s why I’m out there.”

Price carried the Explorers with 23 second half points, bringing them back within two possessions after a 3-pointer with 1:20 remaining cut the deficit to five points, and then again with 46 seconds remaining to make it 61-57 before the Minutemen sealed the game with free throws from Derrick Gordon and Clark.

All but six points from La Salle in the second half came from Price, as the first point scored by another Explorer came 12:58 into the second half off a free throw from Jerell Wright. The only non-Price field goal was a Wright dunk with 6:01 remaining in the game.

UMass (14-9, 7-3 A-10) opened the game on a 12-5 run following a pair of Clark 3-pointers and a Cady Lalanne layup off an excellent lob-pass from Zach Coleman. The sequence led to eight straight points from the Minutemen, forcing the Explorers to burn a timeout not even five minutes into the game.

“The game plan against them is pretty simple, they run so hard. They have so much success in transition… that’s all our guys have heard about for the past three or four days,” La Salle coach John Giannini said. “We’ve worked on it, we’ve played other running teams, but for some reason UMass is able to really push the ball down court against us and for two straight games we don’t seem to have an answer.”

Lalanne finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds while Maxie Esho contributed with 11 points of his own. Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg said he was happy the two big men didn’t force their shots and that when Clark is making his 3-pointers, opportunities can open up on the inside. However, Kellogg mentioned that the Explorers did a great job collapsing on the pair in the post, limiting chances for UMass.

The Minutemen shot just 6-for-23 in the second half (26.1 percent) but went 16-19 from the free throw line, including 5-for-6 in the final 39 seconds to seal the victory.

After a 17 point, 13 rebound performance last game against Fordham, Gordon struggled the entire night finishing with just five points, four rebounds and a season-high six turnovers.

The Explorers (13-10, 5-5 A-10) shot 36.4 percent from the field and were 5-of-16 from 3-point range, going 2-for-7 in the second half.

“We have a little more tweaking to go and I think we can improve and get better, but it’s definitely nice to be where we are,” Kellogg said.

The Minutemen return to action on Wednesday night when they travel to St. Bonaventure for another conference game. The Bonnies won the first matchup 66-59 on Jan. 3 at the Mullins Center.

Andrew Cyr can be reached at [email protected] and can be followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.

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