UMass meets match
Richmond victory is never in doubt
AMHERST — There are all kinds of reasons a team can lose.
Sometimes you don’t perform well. Occasionally, the effort isn’t there — the dreaded “not coming to play’’ cliché. Once in a while you get bad breaks: an injury, a poor call, an infestation of bed bugs in the team hotel.
And then there are times when the other team is simply better.
It was hard to conclude otherwise yesterday, after the University of Massachusetts was thoroughly outplayed by Richmond. The 84-68 score looked to be a fair assessment of where the teams stand.
UMass, at 11-7 (3-2 Atlantic 10), is clearly a much-improved team over a year ago, when the Minutemen lost 20 games (12-20) for the first time in 26 years. They are in legitimate contention for a winning record and a postseason berth of some kind other than the NCAA Tournament.
But the Minutemen do not yet seem to be at the level of a veteran Richmond squad that improved to 15-5, 4-1 in the conference. The Spiders were an NCAA Tournament team a year ago with a 26-9 record, and returned all but two players. That includes last year’s A-10 Player of the Year, Kevin Anderson.
“They’re a good team,’’ said UMass coach Derek Kellogg. “They’re very disciplined. They have a very good indication of what they’re trying to do on both ends of the floor.’’
The Minutemen stayed in range for a half thanks to Anthony Gurley. The senior continued his season-long stellar play with 13 of his game-high 30 points before intermission, including a buzzer-beating three to leave UMass within 33-27.
But in the second half Richmond took UMass apart with its more uptempo version of the classic Princeton offense that coach Chris Mooney learned when he was a four-year starter for Hall of Famer Pete Carril. The spread, the backcuts, and kickouts led to an aesthetically impressive series of baskets to start the half with the Spiders hitting eight of their first nine shots to open the lead to 19. Ultimately, they pushed it to as many as 23. Though UMass would cut the margin to 13, the outcome was never in doubt.
“The continuity of their offense, it’s tough to defend,’’ said Gurley, who lifted his season scoring average to 19.9 ppg. “They put you in a lot of spots where you are forced to help, and that creates matchup problems.’’
The Minutemen also had a strong effort from Javorn Farrell, who scored 16 points, grabbed six rebounds, and handed out four assists, while turning the ball over just once.
The Spiders had four players in double figures, led by Dan Geriot with 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting, and Justin Harper with 21 on 8-of-13. Richmond shot 51.9 percent from the field, including a blistering 63 percent in the second half. The Spiders also assisted on 19 of 28 field goals, bringing a big smile to Mooney’s face.
“Certainly we played a terrific game on offense,’’ said Mooney. “When you shoot the ball like that, everything looks better. We moved the ball very well. We were comfortable. We found ourselves open and not hesitant.’’
The continued development of Harper has Spiders fans hoping for a long run in March. The agile 6-foot-10-inch senior has been probably the league’s most improved player, averaging 18 points per game after netting 10.6 ppg as a junior. In league play he has been dominant, averaging 25.6 points.
“He’s truly a great player,’’ said Mooney. “He can do so many things well. And he’s such a difficult matchup problem for anybody. He can score inside. He can score outside. He can run the floor. He has a beautiful shooting stroke. He’s just very, very difficult to guard. The biggest ingredient he has added is confidence.’’
UMass leaves snowy Amherst this week for even whiter pastures, traveling to St. Bonaventure on Wednesday night.