UMass 83, NU 67: Minutemen Make Quick Work of the Huskies
Unlike Friday’s epic, instant classic OT win at Boston University which went down to the final minute, Monday’s contest at UMass was pretty much decided in the first eight minutes. From the opening tip it was clear the Minutemen were the taller, stronger, faster and more confident team than the Huskies.
Undersized but speedy point guard Chaz Williams set the tone for UMass, scoring two points and dishing three assists in the game’s opening five minutes. NU struggled to create quality shots and began the contest connecting on only 2 of 13 field goals, quickly falling behind 19-4 just past the second media timeout. The defense looked lost as well, as miscommunication and a lack of execution allowed the hosts plenty of open looks, with UMass converting on 6 of its first 12 shots. The rough start plagued the Huskies, who never got closer than nine points the remainder of the period and entered halftime trailing by 12.
Referees played a major part in the second half, allowing Northeastern a window of opportunity for a comeback. The Minutemen were whistled for seven fouls in the first five minutes of the half, and reached the double bonus as early as the 12:37 mark. Though the Huskies deficit increased to as many as 17 in the second stanza, a visibly more determined red and black squad responded with a 10-0 run, which included a thunderous dunk by Jon Lee, who was fouled intentionally by Maxie Esho. Joel Smith finally connected on the team’s first three-pointer of the game with 10:28 remaining, cutting the lead to as few as six points.
But just as Northeastern fans were having flashbacks to Texas State and UNC-Asheville, the pendulum swung back in favor of UMass. Lee and Smith both had long distance looks that would have cut the lead to a single possession, but both shots rimmed out by the slimmest of margins. Amazingly, the Huskies would go a full 10 minutes before hitting their next field goal, a lay-up by Ryan Pierson with 70 seconds remaining. The Minutemen, meanwhile, returned to their opening form, locking down defensively and frustrating the visitors while pushing the pace offensively and getting either easy lay-ups and dunks or wide open threes. Though Northeastern went to the free throw line 16 times in the final 10 minutes, the freebies were not enough to sustain an attack and UMass pushed the lead as high as 20 before settling in for an 83-67 win.
Player of the Game:
Though he stands at only 5-foot-9, the play of Williams is impossible to overlook. The UMass floor general finished with 20 points and 10 assists in a solid 34 minutes of action. Williams’ court vision was what stood out the most, as he routinely found open teammates cutting to the basket and laid perfect passes to them every time. Northeastern’s guards struggled to get a handle on Williams, whose quick lateral movement and no-look passes kept the Huskies a step slow all night. UMass coach Derek Kellogg picked up a hidden gem when he got the sophomore to transfer in.
UMass’ Terrell Vinson also turned in a solid performance, dropping 14 points in a team-high 37 minutes of action. Vinson’s ability to drive to the basket, as well as pull up from beyond the arc, made him a threat the entire night.
On Northeastern’s side of things, both Lee and Smith finished with 15 points, but combined to go only 7 of 22 from the floor in an otherwise quiet night. While the junior captains’s final statistics look on point, neither seemed to come up with the big plays on offense and defense when the Huskies really needed them to. Unlike in the opener at BU when both were instrumental late in the game, Lee and Smith could not will their team to overcome the Minutemen.
Monday’s setback served as a reality check of sorts for the Huskies. After Friday’s thrilling win and overall solid performance, many NU fans were likely envisioning a turnaround season on Huntington Avenue. While it is obviously way too soon to squash these thoughts, the UMass loss at the very least shows that NU’s turnaround will be a work in progress.
Aside from the talent disparity that was major factor in the outcome, my initial observation was that the Huskies simply weren’t ready to go when the ball went up just past 7 p.m. When the team went through warm-ups at Case Gymnasium on Friday, it was apparent NU came to play. Players were loud and energetic, and seemed to have a bounce in their step. During big moments the bench would stand up and clap or yell to teammates, and overall were electrified by the opening game atmosphere. On Monday, the same level of intensity didn’t seem to be there from the beginning, and it showed throughout. Much of this could be attributed to the smaller and quieter Mullins Center crowd, which totaled only 2,664 in size in a 10,000-seat venue. Whether this was a factor or not, Northeastern must find a way to get motivated for every game, regardless of when or where it is played.
Another noticeable difference was the tempo. The BU contest was run-and-gun all night, each squad looking to push the pace and score quickly. Northeastern did little running on Monday, instead setting up in a motion offense and struggling to work the ball open. It will be worth noting how much running the Huskies do this season, and whether or not they have the stamina to do so for a 30-game schedule.
The height differential also seemed to give NU fits. UMass matched up with five players at 6-7 or taller, and the size and length of the Minutemen forced Northeastern to be less aggressive in challenging the defense. I would have liked to see the team attack the basket more and force the issue, especially considering UMass was in early foul trouble in the second half.
As expected with a taller foe, the big men made nowhere near as big an impact in game two. Reggie Spencer scored 16 points Friday, but had only seven on Monday. Kauri Black dropped 12 points against the Terriers but managed only seven against the Minutemen. Kashief Edwards only dipped from eight points to six points, but saw his minutes go from 28 at BU to 18 at UMass, a sign of his ineffectiveness. The most telling stat of the height mismatch: NU went from a plus-20 on the boards against BU to minus-three against UMass.
Quotes of Note:
Bill Coen: “I thought when they jumped on an early lead [Williams] almost limited the way we could attack them even pressuring them because he is a one-man press breaker. He creates so many easy baskets for himself and for his teammates. He’s really going to make them go this year.”