BOSTON – Final exams may have arrived at just the right time for UMass. The Minutemen are off for 10 days before their next game, and there is plenty to work on in between finishing the semester if Tuesday night’s 72-66 win at Northeastern is any indication. Most of it falls under the umbrella of playing the way head coach Derek Kellogg wants this team to play, and Tuesday night’s game may be a microcosm of that.
In each of their first three wins, UMass needed a buzzer-beater or a late shot to win it. In other words, they had not comfortably beat an opponent yet, or even won a game by a few more points that they sealed with free throws until Tuesday. And on Tuesday, they needed a late run after the final media timeout to take the game over, highlighted by a play that Kellogg would like to see a little more of.
After a Northeastern miss with less than two minutes left, UMass got the ball to lightning-quick point guard Chaz Williams. He raced up the floor, bounced off a couple of players like a pinball, somehow threw the ball up as he got knocked over and made the shot while getting fouled. It was eerily reminiscent of a play at Seton Hall in the NIT last year, and something he can do a lot of with his quickness.
“I think he works on it in Brooklyn because he doesn’t do it at UMass,” Kellogg quipped.
Kellogg later noted, in talking about the wide range of things he hopes to work on in between exams, that he wants to see more of that.
“I don’t think our press is anywhere near where it needs to be,” said the UMass mentor. “I don’t think our offensive transition is quite as fast and as quick – I keep telling Chaz to push it so I can see who’s not running. We’re going to continue to get in better basketball shape to play the way UMass plays as the season goes along.”
Defense has probably been the biggest problem area thus far, as UMass came into the game allowing opponents to shoot better than 46 percent from the field and gave up almost 76 points per game. UMass has also been out-rebounded coming into the game. They were much better on Tuesday night, holding Northeastern to 35 percent shooting, a season best for their defense, and that included the Huskies going 3-27 from long range.
Rebounding was a problem again, however, as Northeastern grabbed 19 offensive boards and out-rebounded the Minutemen 41-37. The Huskies cashed them in for 20 second-chance points. It certainly didn’t help that UMass was without starting forward Cady Lalanne, who is suspended indefinitely after an off-court incident led to an arrest over the weekend. That left them having to play smaller, with Sampson Carter even seeing minutes in the middle.
“We’ll play with the hand we’re dealt,” said Kellogg of having to go without Lalanne.
While the offense has not been a thing of beauty thus far this season, the problem area didn’t seem to be turnovers, even though UMass was giving the ball away 13.5 times per game coming in. The Minutemen didn’t commit an unseemly number of turnovers on Tuesday, but several were of the costly variety as Northeastern managed to get fast break baskets out of them. Instead, the problem coming in was making shots, as UMass had shot at least 40 percent just twice in six games.
In fact, one could argue the offense put the defense in a hole as much as anything given the costly nature of several turnovers. Northeastern cashed in 14 UMass turnovers for 16 points, and a number of turnovers and near-turnovers were of the careless variety.
The defense started things for UMass, then the offense got going. Jesse Morgan started slowly in the game and had started slowly shooting the ball, but he finished Tuesday’s game with 18 points to tie Williams for game-high honors. He was 4-6 from long range in the second half.
Kellogg said he was frustrated at how the Minutemen couldn’t keep up momentum for much of the game. In particular, after a 7-0 run to open the second half led to a quick Northeastern timeout, the Huskies regained the momentum, chipped away at the lead and eventually regained it.
UMass played through adversity all night long and came away with a road win. The team has faced its share of adversity as well, especially of late with Lalanne being suspended, but they have played through it all. Now they have 10 days off before playing Elon in Springfield, and Kellogg hopes to get this team playing more the way he wants them to play. One thing he was certainly happy to see was how his team pulled out the win.
“I think our team has a good way about them in that they continue to play hard and compete, and the biggest thing is that we figured out a way to win in a game that could have gone either way,” said Kellogg.