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Minutemen survive Bobcats, 84-75

AMHERST — This one looked on the verge of getting out of hand in the wrong direction midway through the first half Wednesday night, but Jesse Morgan — seemingly nowhere to be found in UMass’ last victory — reappeared just in time to take a run at the Minutemen’s basketball record book.

Morgan set a Mullins Center record with 24 first-half points, and kept it rolling for a game-high and career-high 35, including seven 3-pointers, driving the Minutemen to reverse an early 12-point deficit and hold Ohio University at bay at the end for an 85-76 non-conference victory.

Cady Lalanne filed a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds for UMass (6-3), with Chaz Williams contributing nine points and eight assists. Terrell Vinson scored eight points and Maxie Esho had seven.

Ohio, an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 participant a year ago with a 29-8 final record, fell to 7-4 despite big production from the threesome of D.J. Cooper (23 points, 10 assists), Walter Offutt (18 points, five 3-pointers) and Nick Kellogg (15 points). The Bobcats jumped on the Minutemen to the tune of an early 18-6 lead just over five minutes in on the strength of four 3-pointers, but UMass put together a monster 23-1 run to build a double-digit lead of its own, 29-19, at the 8:08 mark.

Morgan’s jumper snapped a 19-19 tie and he quickly added three free throws after he was fouled on a 3-point try. The Minutemen’s lead peaked twice at 11 points in the first half, before Ohio hit back to cut it to three. UMass went into the locker room up 48-40.

“After my first shot, I felt like I couldn’t miss again,” said Morgan, who finished 12-of-18 from the floor and 7-of-10 from three, following up a 1-of-9, three-point outing Saturday in an overtime win over Elon in Springfield.

His previous career best was 25 points last season against Rhode Island. For a few moments, Morgan looked on pace to match or better the school record that has stood for close to 45 years, Billy Tindall’s 41 points against Vermont Feb. 10, 1968.

“It’s huge. I’ve seen him do that before, and to see him do that now in a college game was just really uplifting for the team and the fans,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg of Morgan. “It was nice to see a few 3-point shots go in. I think our guys really played at a high level.”

Ohio came back early on in the second half, tying the score twice, the last at 55-55 with 14:26 remaining. UMass promptly ripped off 11 straight, nine of them coming on three 3-pointers by Morgan, to make it 66-55 with 12 minutes left. The Bobcats crawled back to within six points, but got no closer. The nine-point final margin marked UMass’ largest of any of its six wins, following nailbiters decided by three, two, one, six and five points respectively.

“As soon as you say you can’t do it, it happens,” said Kellogg, who had earlier lamented his team’s inability to close out opponents with big runs. “You’ve got to put together consecutive good plays on both ends of the floor. I thought for the most part, the players tried to do what I’m asking of them. I can’t fathom that we’re not still playing right now, or that it wasn’t a one-point game.”

UMass shot 48 percent from the field, 9-of-24 from 3-point range and cleaned up at the foul line for the second straight game, ending 24-of-35 at the stripe compared to Ohio’s 6-of-10. The Bobcats sank 12 3-point bombs of their own.

“We still understand that we have a lot more to give and a lot more to show,” said Williams. “Today we showed a glimpse of who we really are. I think the fans got a chance to see that, and we got a chance to see that ourselves.”

The Minutemen host East Carolina Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at the Mullins Center.

In the opening game of Wednesday’s women’s and men’s doubleheader, the UMass women fell to Bowling Green, 64-61.

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