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UMass 79, NJIT 58

Home run for UMass

Minutemen (3-0) throw out NJIT

By Jeff Wagenheim
Globe Correspondent / November 18, 2011

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AMHERST - Whoever first spoke the idiom “the comforts of home’’ knew a little something about linking words that belong together.

A case in point: the University of Massachusetts basketball team, which has started the season with three home games, looking increasingly comfortable with each one.

The Minutemen broke open a tight game with a flurry of 3-pointers late in the first half last night and cruised to a 79-58 win over New Jersey Institute of Technology in front of an intimate gathering of 2,497.

“As Coach Cal used to say, ‘3-pointers can be fool’s gold,’ ’’ said UMass coach Derek Kellogg, a former John Calipari assistant at Memphis and a point guard on Calipari’s Minutemen team that reached the 1996 Final Four. “Eventually, they can stop falling for you. But we’ll take the win and be 3-0.’’

Thus ends UMass’s ease-into-the-season stretch in the home whites. The next two times the Minutemen take the court, it will be on the road against members of the Atlantic Coast Conference (at Boston College on Monday, then vs. No. 25 Florida State on Thanksgiving in the Bahamas). That could be discomforting.

NJIT (1-2) kept pace for much of the first half. The game was tied at 26 with five minutes remaining when the Minutemen finally found their comfort zone - beyond the 3-point arc. First Raphiael Putney (12 points) hit from deep, and, after Terrell Vinson converted a more traditional 3-point play (fouled on a basket underneath after a nice feed from Chaz Williams), Putney hit twice more from beyond the arc, giving him four for the half and giving UMass a 12-point lead.

Isaiah Wilkerson (18 points) ended the run with an inside basket off an offensive rebound, but UMass wasn’t done. Javorn Farrell (team-high 17 points) and Vinson (13) hit two more 3-pointers to complete the half-ending 18-2 run and send the Minutemen into the locker room with a 44-28 lead.

No one in Amherst was crying for the visitors, however, as the Great West Conference team from no farther west than Newark was coming off a 52-point destruction Monday of Division 3 Penn State Abington.

After the break, UMass came out feeling a bit too comfy. The Minutemen maintained their double-figure lead, however, because NJIT likewise could do little more than throw up errant shots and turn the ball over. The Highlanders did have a chance to make a move when Putney was whistled for two fouls on one play, as he bumped Wilkerson on a driving shot, then complained and drew a technical.

Wilkerson hit only 2 of 4 free throws, however, and UMass went back to work with a 9-0 run that made it 61-41 with 6:45 remaining.

But fun time is over, the coach acknowledged, with a trip to Boston next on the schedule. “That’s an ACC team on their court,’’ he said.

His players feel ready.

“The last I checked,’’ said Vinson, “they don’t have a point guard. I don’t see how they’re going to guard Chaz.’’