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UMass 73, Davidson 65

UMass assumes control

Davidson cannot keep up with run by Minutemen

By Jeff Wagenheim
Globe Correspondent / December 23, 2011
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AMHERST - If Derek Kellogg is looking for some potent ammunition for his pregame motivational speeches, the University of Massachusetts basketball coach might try persuading his players that it’s halftime and they’re about to take the court for the game’s final 20 minutes.

For the second straight game, the Minutemen followed a flat first half by coming out of intermission in high gear, erasing a deficit, and changing the energy of the game. Last night it was the spark UMass (10-3) needed to surge past Davidson, 73-65, at the Mullins Center.

This out-of-the-locker-room spurt wasn’t as dramatic, perhaps, as last Saturday’s 18-0 run that propelled the Minutemen to victory over Siena. But last night’s 17-4 burst to start the second half, punctuated by a 10-0 run highlighted by Maxie Esho’s rare 4-point play, severely altered the tenor of the game, which UMass trailed by 6 at the half.

Esho’s spark remained lit throughout the run. He had 8 of his 12 points in the decisive half, along with three rebounds. His strong putback completed the 10-0 roll, making it 46-39, UMass, with a little less than 12 minutes left.

“Maxie was phenomenal,’’ said Kellogg, whose team also got 14 points from Jesse Morgan. “He changed the complexion of the game with his athleticism. I’ll hate to see him when he learns what he’s doing out there.’’

Indeed, the 6-foot-8-inch redshirt freshman played with the vigor of someone unaware of how huge a particular moment in the game can be. The 4-point play, for instance, came on his first career 3-pointer.

“I just took the open shot,’’ he said. “I wasn’t expecting a 4-point play.’’

The UMass run early in the second half made a difference in the way the game was played - the Minutemen’s up-tempo style took over from the methodical Davidson approach - but it did not put the game away. The Wildcats, though flustered by the press, responded with an 8-point run to regain the lead with 11 minutes left. And the teams traded baskets, turnovers, and missed opportunities for seven minutes.

But then Chaz Williams returned with four fouls, and with their point guard in charge, the Minutemen made their run. Williams (10 points) hit a floater to make it 60-57 with a little more than three minutes left. After pressure caused a turnover, Javorn Farrell (10 points) also floated one in, high off the backboard, to give the Minutemen a 5-point lead. JP Kuhlman responded for Davidson (7-4), but Terrell Vinson hit his only basket of a 1-for-6 shooting night. It was a 3-pointer, and UMass led by 6 with a little less than two minutes to go. Williams added a pair of free throws after being fouled on an out-of-control drive, and Farrell added two more to make it a 10-point game with a minute left.

“That was a good college basketball game,’’ said Kellogg. “In the first half, they controlled tempo and knocked down shots. We played great defense in the second half. We wore them down.’’

Davidson coach Bob McKillop did not disagree. His team was playing its third straight road game, and was coming off the emotional high of beating No. 12 Kansas Monday night. “We did not have the same energy in the second half,’’ he said. “Credit Massachusetts for taking away that energy with their pressure.’’

Davidson’s De’Mon Brooks led all scorers with 22 points, with many of his second-half baskets coming on the kinds of athletic plays the Wildcats didn’t need so much in the early going, when their poise under pressure kept the ball moving and created open shots. But once the UMass full-court press defense hit its stride, every Davidson possession was an adventure.

“The story of the game was turnovers,’’ said McKillop, whose team committed 11 of its 19 after halftime. “They forced them, and we played into their pressure.’’

What wisdom had Kellogg passed along to his players at the half? “Let’s play,’’ he said with a shrug. “As a team, as a program, you said you wanted to play up-tempo basketball, well, do it.’’

They did it.

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