UMass men’s basketball squeaks past North Carolina A&T Tuesday night

By Adam Aucoin

(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)
(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)

When the schedule comes out prior to every season, there are certain games on the schedule that get circled as wins before the matchup is even played.

Tuesday night’s contest against North Carolina A&T was supposed to be one of those games for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, but the result was anything but a certainty for the Minutemen when they stepped on the floor in the second half.

Despite putting up quite possibly its worst first half of the season, UMass (7-3) was able to pull out the victory over the Aggies, coming away with a 65-59 win.

However, the first half of Tuesday night’s game at Mullins Center was anything but what people expected to see.

At the under-12 media timeout with 11 minutes and 42 seconds left in the first half, the Minutemen were down 20-3 to the heavy-underdog N.C. A&T team. UMass was shooting just 1-for-14 from the field at the moment, including 0-for-10 from 3-point range. Meanwhile, on the other side of the court, the Aggies could not miss, shooting 8-for-13 from the field and a perfect 4-for-4 from beyond the arc.

During that timeout, UMass coach Derek Kellogg preached for the Minutemen to start attacking the paint and get the ball inside.

“We needed to get the ball inside,” Kellogg said. “I mean, it almost looked like we were so wide open that guys got really apprehensive and almost like, I don’t know if nervous is the right word, but kind of like I don’t want to shoot that ball. So at that point, I said let’s get it inside, let’s try to get some paint touches.”

Junior guard C.J. Anderson was not worried about the team getting back in the game at that juncture.

“We were just missing a bunch of shots, nothing was falling,” Anderson said. “We’re just trying to mature up in the second half, telling guys like ‘look, you know, we gotta focus.’ We were playing around a little too much.”

The Minutemen finally put together to get a string of success late in the first half, embarking on a 19-2 run to cut the lead to one before the half.

A big part of that surge was the play of guard Donte Clark, who had 12 points in the first half. The junior finished with 22 points, along with six assists and four rebounds. Tuesday was the second time this season he had more than 20 points, the other being the Harvard game where he scored 29.

Clark believes it helped the team on both ends when UMass started hitting its shots late in the first half.

“I definitely think it is important for a scoring team to see the ball go in. If we ain’t scoring then I don’t think people are going to play defense so it helps out to make shots,” Clark said. “And we weren’t really down thinking we were going to lose or nothing, we just knew that we had to get stops and play the way we were supposed to play and that starts on defense. We get defensive stops then our offense starts.”

Although, NC A&T (1-8) came out on the losing end Tuesday night, the Aggies performance had to be a positive moving forward. As a team whose only win was against Division III Greensboro College, N.C. A&T has to be happy with the effort the team showed against the Minutemen, only losing by six.

The Aggies were had four players score in double-digits, led by Sam Hunt with 16 points. N.C. A&T was strong on the offensive boards as well, topping UMass in the statistic 18-13.

The Minutemen will be back in action Saturday against Kennesaw State. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m. at Mullins Center.

Adam Aucoin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @aaucoin34.