AMHERST — Four times in the previous five seasons, the University of Massachusetts has opened its basketball season 3-0. Each time, the Minutemen went on to have a winning — or no worse than a .500 — season.
Make that start five times in the last six years after the Minutemen beat Central Arkansas 89-62 in the first game of the MGM Grand Main Event Tournament. UMass is now 3-0. UMass will play Clemson on Monday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Four Minutemen scored in double figures as they led for 34 of the 40 minutes. Jabarie Hinds, who set a career high with 24 points Tuesday against Harvard, equalled that when he matched his career best with 24 on 9-of-18 shooting. He was one assist away from a double-double, finishing up with nine helpers.
"I'm definitely happy with the three wins, but as [head coach Derek Kellogg] said, we still have mistakes and stuff that we have to correct, that when we play against better teams we can't do," said the redshirt senior guard from Mount Vernon, N.Y. "We've been playing hard. It starts off at the defensive end."
The Minutemen only forced 10 turnovers and scored only 13 of their 89 points off of turnovers. But the UMass defense locked down on Central Arkansas' shooters to some extent, holding the Bears to 32.3 percent shooting from the floor and the visitors missed 10 of 14 shots from outside 3-point range.
UMass shot the ball well for 40 minutes. The Minutemen were 34 of 64 from the floor and 16 of 29 from 3-point range. They made more treys than they had in the first two games combined. The 16 treys ties a school record set on Feb. 25, 2009, when the Minutemen were 16 of 36 in a 94-77 loss at home to Duquesne, Kellogg's first season. It was UMass' best day shooting from outside the arc since it was 13 of 27 in a 90-52 win over Fordham back on Jan. 26, 2014.
"We shot the ball particularly well, which I thought was a nice sign for the team. There were some things we need to shore up before we get to Vegas," said the UMass coach. "Defensively, I thought their transition game got us a little bit.
"Overall, the third game in six days, I thought we were a little — our energy wasn't where it needed to be — but the guys came through."
UMass led 40-31 at halftime and was up by as many as 33 points late in the second half before cruising home with a 27-point win. Even walk-on Zach Turcotte got into the scoring column. The junior from Boxford and Masconomet had four points in four minutes.
The visitors from Arkansas hung with the Minutemen through the first media time out and took a 12-11 lead on a basket by Jeff Lowery with just under 14 minutes left. Lowery and Jordan Howard each had 11 points to lead Central Arkansas.
On the ensuing possession, Rashaan Holloway muscled in a basket, putting UMass up by a point. The freshman center had a chance for a 3-point play, but missed the free throw. Albert Christensson rebounded and gave Howard an outlet pass.
Howard was turned over by Zach Coleman, who converted the turnover with a ferocious dunk at the other end. That made it 15-12 for UMass.
Central Arkansas kept it close, but coming out of the 12-minute media time out, Hinds hit back-to-back treys, giving UMass a comfortable lead it would not relinquish.
Donte Clark had 19 points for UMass, Trey Davis had 17 and Coleman had 10. C.J. Anderson scored only three points, but he had 12 rebounds and six assists.
"I'm happy to be 3-0, but I'm not content," said Kellogg. "I think this team has a lot of run left in it. I think these guys are committed to getting better and working hard. This is going to be a fun team to ride with this year and see how far we can take things."