UMass outguns BYU
SPRINGFIELD — Maybe it isn’t quite mid-1990s buzzworthy, but you’ve got to go back that far to find a similar start to a season for UMass basketball.
A sellout throng of 7,331 at the MassMutual Center was treated to an up-and-down, back-and-forth track meet of a game Saturday, and the unbeaten and 21st-ranked Minutemen needed every one of their most points in a game in six years to put down the challenge of Brigham Young, 105-96, in the Basketball Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase.
Chaz Williams set a career high with 32 points and tied a school record with 15 assists, leading six players in double figures for UMass (8-0). The senior guard turned the ball over only once and knocked down five 3-pointers and all nine of his tries from the free-throw line.
“I’m not a big point guy, I’m more impressed with the 15 assists and getting my guys involved,” said Williams. “Scoring 32 is a plus, it helped us win and I shot OK, but there’s still more work we can do.”
Sampson Carter added 20 points for a career best of his own, while Raphiael Putney scored 15, Maxie Esho 12, Trey Davis 11 and Derrick Gordon 10. Cady Lalanne, limited by foul trouble, managed five points.
“I thought our guys brought it today,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg. “I think that was a nice college basketball game to watch, both teams got up and down the floor. They’re probably one of the better offensive teams we’ll play all year. It was kind of a special day for the program to be in Springfield and win a game against a pretty close to nationally ranked team.”
The Minutemen used an 11-0 run early in the first half to take the lead for good, then withstood BYU’s eight straight points to begin the second half, cutting UMass’ halftime lead from 11 points down to three.
From there, Esho scored six points in a 10-2 run that put the Minutemen up 64-53 with 141/2 minutes to play, and their lead never fell below eight points afterward. Williams stuck a 3-pointer with 5:25 to go to put UMass in front 90-73, their largest margin of the day, and set the MassMutual Center ablaze.
“Unbelievable energy,” said Carter. “They (the fans) were with us every step of the way. Even when we fell a little down, they picked us right back up — I think the energy was a 5-level,” tops on a 1-to-5 scale.
BYU (7-3), with all three of its losses coming against Top 25-ranked teams, played its part with equal gusto, putting five men in double digits led by 25 points from Tyler Haws and 23 by backcourt mate Matt Carlino. Eric Mika (18 with a game-high eight rebounds), Kyle Collinsworth (14) and Frank Bartley (14) rounded out the list that accounted for all but two of the Cougars’ points.
“Chaz Williams was really good,” said BYU coach Dave Rose. “Everything we had for him, he had a pretty good answer for us.”
With eight straight wins to begin the season, the Minutemen are off to their best start since the 1995-1996 team began 26-0, and it’s their longest winning streak since a 10-gamer in 1997-1998. Renovations to the MassMutual Center have cut the building’s seating capacity since its existence as the Springfield Civic Center, but Saturday marked the largest Springfield crowd to see a UMass game since Jan. 3, 1995, when 8,590 turned out against West Virginia.
The 105 points marked the highest total in a game for the Minutemen since a 107-100 victory at Syracuse Nov. 28, 2007.
Saturday, UMass scored its first five points from the foul line before Williams connected on a old-fashioned 3-point play with 15:49 left to tie the score at 8-8. Putney then dropped in a pair of rainbow threes for a 14-8 lead, finishing an 11-0 run.
With the Minutemen ahead 25-21, a brief melee ensued with 8:59 to go in the half, when Putney fouled Haws, knocked Haws to the floor and Haws retaliated with a trip of Putney. Players milled around as Williams exchanged shoves with Mika, more than a foot taller. The end result was technical fouls assessed to Haws, Mika and Williams, two free throws for the Minutemen — one made by Carter — and possession for UMass, leading to a Williams trey and a 29-21 edge.
After Haws’ jumper pulled BYU to within 44-39, the Minutemen ran off the next eight points, finished by Gordon’s layup with 1:56 to play that made it 52-39. Haws scored late to create a 52-41 count at the half.
Out of the locker room, the Cougars used a pair of turnovers for three quick baskets by Haws, Mika and Carlino, forcing a UMass timeout. Carlino then scored again after the pause to make it 52-49.
“We looked a little like, we’re just here. This team was coming to play,” said Kellogg. “The timeout was about settle down, but also play harder. They went about 60 percent, and that wasn’t acceptable. So I reminded the older guys to pick it up.”
UMass shot 59 percent from the field in the second half and 56 percent for the afternoon, to go along with 26-of-31 from the free-throw line. Williams joined Joe DiSarcina (1968), Alex Eldridge (1977) and Carl Smith (1986) on the list of UMass players with 15 assists in a game.
With nearly a week until their next game, Saturday at 3 p.m. against Northern Illinois at the Mullins Center, the Minutemen’s ranking figures to climb from its current No. 21, but Kellogg appreciates that the time away from the court can also keep the spotlight away from his team.
“I haven’t heard much talk around the locker room or in practice about being ranked,” said Kellogg. “It’s more, ‘All right, what’s next, next practice, next game?’ I’ve been kind of impressed with that. We’ve talked about, let’s keep it the way it is, let’s not try to change too much. We’ve had some success here, but I think going through some of the not-so-great times has built for this.”