BOSTON – Make no mistake: Chaz Williams is the engine that makes UMass go. That’s been clear for his first two seasons in Amherst, and he reminded anyone who may have forgotten about that on Sunday. But if UMass is going to contend in the Atlantic 10, as many expect, they will need someone to complement him. The most likely candidate is Cady Lalanne, and that was evident in UMass’ 86-73 win over Boston College.
The Minutemen have a veteran group, and while expectations have always been high under Derek Kellogg, this year it makes sense. If you felt the team underachieved in recent years, that’s understandable to a degree since they have had talent. They have shown flashes of how good they can be, but haven’t put it all together just yet.
Now the talent that Kellogg and his staff recruited there has had time to develop, others have overcome injuries, and they have a top player at the most important position who is also the locker room leader. They add a player whose intangibles are big in Derrick Gordon, a transfer from Western Kentucky. And with that, Lalanne could be a big difference-maker if he stays healthy and on the court.
There hasn’t been much doubt about what Lalanne can do. He’s about 6’9″, 253 pounds and has a 7-foot-3 inch wingspan, and he moves well for that body. He wasn’t eligible his true freshman year in 2010-11, then showed promise in 14 games a year later, hauling down 14 rebounds in one of his first games and averaging 5.6 rebounds in less than 15 minutes per game before a foot injury shelved him for the rest of the season. Last year, the numbers were better in just over 22 minutes per game, but he was also suspended for 12 days after being arrested on campus, missing a game at Northeastern.
The potential has been there, but now is the time for him to start reaching some of it. He is their best post player by a wide margin, and he’s put on 25 pounds since arriving on campus. The body is more mature, but now he has to be, and Sunday’s 27-point, 12-rebound effort is a good start.
“I expect a lot out of Cady. I’ve seen what he’s capable of doing,” said Kellogg. “I expect him to play like he did every time out, maybe not 27 and 12, but with the same ferocity around the basket.”
Lalanne was 12-15 from the field, and he was big in the second half when UMass took over the game. Boston College used a strong start to the second half to turn a four-point halftime lead into a 44-36 lead before a timeout, and after that the Minutemen dominated. UMass went on a 29-8 run, led by Williams (20 points, including 5-5 from long range) and Lalanne, who was 9-10 from the field in the second half and also blocked three shots on the afternoon.
The Minutemen have other talent in the frontcourt, but none is the true post player Lalanne is. Raphiael Putney has always been a “potential” guy but hasn’t consistently moved towards realizing it, while Sampson Carter is a nice complementary player who can play some of both forward spots. Maxie Esho is probably better at the wing given his athleticism, which he showed one time on Sunday when he made a tough dunk while getting fouled, and sophomore Tyler Bergantino was a bit player last season that they are also counting on for more.
Carter might be the other X-factor for this team as he can play off Lalanne up front. He did that successfully on Sunday, scoring 12 points and grabbing eight rebounds. He won’t blow anyone away with athleticism, but he isn’t lacking it, either, and he and Lalanne have built a chemistry together going back to when they were rehabbing from injury two seasons ago.
“We sat out together, we were hurt together so we rehabbed together,” said Carter. “We weren’t just on the court together, we were off the court together, bonding and pushing each other every day.”
UMass turns right around to take on LSU on Tuesday morning in a game that is part of the ESPN College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon. There, the Minutemen will need Lalanne against a team that includes an underrated big man in LSU’s Johnnie O’Bryant. But that will be a familiar theme all season, regardless of whether the opposing team has a good big man, as Lalanne gives the team something they otherwise don’t have. In Sunday’s win he showed how valuable he can be.