Monday February 15, 2010

AMHERST -- The University of Massachusetts shot 35.1 percent from the floor against Saint Joseph's Sunday afternoon and didn't make a field goal over the last 6 minutes, 47 seconds of the game. Despite that, the Minutemen won.

Ricky Harris had a game-high 27 points, his sixth consecutive 20-plus point output, and the Minutemen beat Saint Joseph's 70-62, for their second consecutive win.

Just call it getting over the hump for the Minutemen.

"That's something Coach [Derek Kellogg] stresses all the time. Are we going to be able to win games when we don't play our best," Harris said. "We got crucial defensive stops. We got a lot of rebounds and we got to the free throw line and made our free throws today, which was big for us. That's what tournament teams need to be. That's what Coach Kellogg talks about -- the little things to win games."

The win was celebrated by a crowd of 4,833 at the Mullins Center -- the second largest home crowd of the season.

Now, while the Minutemen (10-15, 4-7 in the Atlantic 10) are on a little bit of a streak, it's hard to get carried away. After all, they haven't won two straight since beating Grambling and Memphis back in December. But a winning streak is a winning streak.

"We're growing up as a team. We're getting more mature, we're playing tougher," Kellogg said. "It's evident by the ability to win a game when you don't play great or perfect.

"We made free throws down the stretch. I thought we were strong with the ball.


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Defensively and on the boards is where we're making some very good strides. When we start making shots, we look like a pretty good basketball team."

Anthony Gurley came off the bench to add 15 points for the Minutemen. Starting center Sean Carter scored only four points, but pulled down 11 rebounds -- seven on the offensive end.

The loss had to be frustrating for Saint Joe's, which played pretty tough defense down the stretch. But the Minutemen were 15 of 19 from the free throw line in that 6:47 to ice the victory.

Saint Joseph's (9-16, 3-8 Atlantic 10) is now 0 for the A-10 on the road, and without a road win outside of Philadelphia. The Hawks' only road victory came against Penn in the Palestra.

"I'm leaving here not disappointed defensively. I think we accomplished what we wanted to do," Hawks coach Phil Martelli said after the game. "I do leave hurting for my players, because we went 11 minutes without scoring [in the first half] and that's hard to do. That's on me. We need a little more skill time. We need a little more creative offensive thinking."

Garrett Williamson had a team-high 19 points for Saint Joseph's, one of three Hawks to score in double figures.

The Minutemen actually won this game in the final 10 minutes of the first half. Saint Joseph's had rallied from a five-point deficit with a 10-0 run, to take a 19-14 lead with 10:49 left. Justin Crosgile hit a 3-point basket and Darrin Govens hit two in the run. And when Bucknell transfer Todd O'Brien hit the second of two free throws, the Hawks were up 19-14. That was where their scoring stopped, and the Minutemen took control.

Not only did UMass score the final 16 points of the first half, they hit three shots from beyond the arc -- one by seldom-used Matt Hill, one by Harris and one by Gurley. Gurley closed the half by making 1 of 2 from the line for the 30-19 lead.

"That might have been the hardest we played the whole game," Carter said. "We need to get to the point where we're playing the whole game like that."

Saint Joseph's had shot 0 for 12 in that stretch, committing five turnovers. That's tough to recover from.

"They scored in transition. They did a good job in transition and got more open looks than I thought they did [in Philadelphia]," Kellogg said. "We were playing solid, pretty physical man-to-man defense. We're getting better in practice, and it's carrying over to games."

In the second half, the Hawks whittled the 11-point halftime lead as low as five points. And while the Minutemen's last basket came when Harris drove to the basket past the Hawks' Carl Baptiste with 6:47 left, they held Saint Joe's off the rest of the way.

The UMass win helps them in the battle for an Atlantic 10 Tournament berth. Only the top 12 out of 14 teams qualifies. The Minutemen were one of five teams with 3-7 league marks going into Sunday. They won and Duquesne beat LaSalle, moving ahead of St. Bonaventure, George Washington and Saint Joe's.

"We don't want to end up on a bad note. We want to end on some type of a positive note," said Harris. "My teammates are starting to buy in."