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UMass 71, St. Joseph's 62

UMass runs off with win

Minutemen rally past St. Joseph’s

By Jeff Wagenheim
Globe Correspondent / January 15, 2012
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AMHERST - “They seem to have a will to win,’’ said Derek Kellogg, “which is the best thing you can ask your team to have.’’

The University of Massachusetts coach was talking about a game that began with his players missing open shot after open shot and getting lost enough on defense to surrender a 17-0 run and fall behind Saint Joseph’s, 20-3, seven minutes in.

Kellogg was heaping praise because of what followed.

The Minutemen’s immediate response was a 13-0 spurt to rouse a hushed Mullins Center, and by halftime UMass had taken a lead that would be threatened but never surrendered in a 71-62 victory before a rocking 4,616.

UMass (14-4, 3-1 Atlantic 10) is 10-0 at home, its best start since 1992-93. (This has been an unbeaten season all around for Minutemen at the Mullins Center, where the hockey team is 6-0-3.)

What most impressed Kellogg during the response to Saint Joseph’s run was how his players performed at both ends.

“They kept their composure,’’ said Kellogg. “Our defensive intensity was a constant, and we finally made some offensive plays.’’

We’ll get to the offense in a moment, but first: the defense. Saint Joseph’s came to town with the most explosive backcourt in the A-10. Carl Jones was averaging a conference-leading 18 points, and Langston Galloway was third at 16.2 and coming off a 30-point effort Wednesday against Fordham. And Jones did get off to a good start, scoring two of the Hawks’ first three baskets. But that was it for him: 4 points on 2-of-12 shooting, 0 of 5 from beyond the 3-point arc. Galloway scored 8, only 2 in the second half.

“Seeing Jesse [Morgan] and Freddie [Riley] lock in on defense the way they did was nice,’’ said Kellogg. “They did a fantastic job on Galloway and Carl Jones.’’

As for the UMass offense, well, let’s just say that no one on the other side was able to lock in on Chaz Williams. The redshirt sophomore, playing his first season for the Minutemen after transferring from Hofstra, showed what has made him a team leader, not just in scoring (22 points) but in running the offense (7 assists) and chipping in with plays not expected of a 5-foot-9-inch point guard (6 rebounds).

“The kid has abilities,’’ said Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli. “It’s not the scoring so much. They have a way of attacking, and they can attack through one guy.’’

That’s exactly what ended up happening, but before it could, the Hawks (12-6, 2-2) would have to fight back to add some drama to the game’s conclusion. Following the initial Saint Joseph’s run and the UMass answer, the teams went into intermission with the Minutemen ahead by a point. Then, with the game tied at 45 just before the midpoint of the second half, UMass went on an 11-2 spurt to grab a 9-point lead with 7:29 left. The Hawks then made their run, and it was a 2-point game with 2:27 remaining.

That’s when the leader of the Minutemen made the play of the game. Out of a timeout, Williams dribbled furiously toward the basket, displaying the speed that had gotten him through the big bodies for several inside baskets during the game. But this time, as the Hawks moved in on him, Williams lofted a soft pass toward the rim, which Sean Carter turned into a crowd-thrilling dunk that made it a 63-59 game.

“That was huge,’’ said Kellogg. “That was a game-winning play. That was a winning basketball play.’’

Indeed, it was. Saint Joseph’s scored only 3 points the rest of the way, and in the end was left to send Williams to the free throw line. Wrong move. Williams took eight freebies in the final minute. He made eight.

And now, with four of their next five games being on the road, the Minutemen will get their chance to see what they can do away from the Mullins Center. They’re eager for the challenge.

“Most definitely,’’ said Terrell Vinson (11 points, 6 rebounds). “We’ve got to recuperate and get ready to battle on the road.’’

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