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UMass 85, Charlotte 75

UMass able to toe the line for a win

Minutemen hold off troublesome Charlotte

By Jeff Wagenheim
Globe Correspondent / January 12, 2012
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AMHERST - When the game was on the line, the University of Massachusetts earned its stripes.

At the line.

After blowing a 20-point second-half lead to trail with less than five minutes to play, the Minutemen surged back ahead, then protected and built on their lead with sharpshooting from the free throw line to beat Charlotte, 85-75, last night before 2,760 at the Mullins Center.

“We shot free throws much better tonight, which was a nice sign,’’ said coach Derek Kellogg, whose team was 26 of 31 from the line, hitting seven of its last eight. “I think our guys are maturing and getting in the gym and shooting extra.’’

UMass (13-4, 2-1 Atlantic-10) remained unbeaten at home (9-0) by getting off to fast starts in each half, then ending each session strongly as well. In between, the Minutemen had some lulls that made what ended up as a double-digit victory look not so pretty at times.

“We did enough things to win,’’ said Kellogg. “We almost did enough things to lose.’’

The biggest reason UMass did not lose was Raphiael Putney, who had 19 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Though Chaz Williams also scored 19, Terrell Vinson had 18, and Sean Carter chipped in 15, it was Putney’s energy at both ends of the court that was the difference.

He hit key 3-pointers. He turned down open treys to drive into the lane for difficult soft-touch floaters.

“He loves to move around the 3-point line, being a 6-foot-9 3-point shooter,’’ said Kellogg. “But he’s most effective when he’s driving into the lane.’’

Charlotte (9-6, 2-1 A-10) fell behind by 10 points before the game was four minutes old. Carter imposed himself inside for the Minutemen with strong moves and a soft touch. Putney showed a hint of the tenacity that was to come by following his own miss. And when Williams came off a pick for a 3-pointer that capped a 7-0 run, the score was 12-2.

The game was being played at a pace that didn’t suit Charlotte, and even after the 49ers ended the UMass run, the Minutemen came out of a timeout firing again.

A Vinson jump hook off the inbounds underneath the basket, a Carter slam off a Williams alley-oop, and a Jesse Morgan breakaway off a steal made it a 14-point game.

But Charlotte chipped away, mainly on the strength of Chris Braswell. The 6-8 junior, who finished with 31 points and nine rebounds, was strong and quick underneath in scoring a trio of hoops, and as the half wore on, he also did some damage at the free throw line. The 49ers cut their deficit in half before UMass hit a couple of late shots for an 11-point halftime lead.

The Minutemen charged ahead by 18 within the first three minutes of the second half. But Braswell again countered, with more strong moves inside and a new angle of attack - from beyond the arc. He swished a trio of 3-pointers during a long, steady run that put the 49ers ahead, 69-68, with 4:46 left.

But UMass answered again. Especially from the line.

Even through the disappointment of seeing a 1-point lead down the stretch turn into a 10-point loss, Charlotte coach Alan Major was impressed by the fight his team showed. “A lot of teams would have packed it in after getting behind by 20 against a good team on their home court.’’

Kellogg feels the same way about his players. “I thought our team showed resiliency tonight,’’ he said.

Putney, a big factor in that resiliency, knew the Minutemen had it in them. “I felt like we could get it back under control,’’ he said. “We’ve been playing well at home this year, so we have confidence.’’

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