Thursday February 9, 2012

AMHERST -- Momentum in basketball can be a fleeting thing. Sometimes the momentum gained on a buzzer beater is left in the locker room at halftime.

Then, there’s the 3-point basket Jesse Morgan made for the University of Massachusetts on Wednesday night. His trey hit the iron with two seconds left, rattled around and fell through after the horn sounded. That cut St. Bonaventure’s lead to three at halftime. The Minutemen then scored the first 14 points of the second half and never looked back in a 76-67 win at the Mullins Center.

"It definitely was a momentum builder," said Morgan, who scored a career-high 24 points in the victory. "Anytime a shot goes in at the half that puts you within three or two, is always a momentum builder."

With the win, UMass improves to 18-6 and 7-3 in the Atlantic 10. The Minutemen entered the game in a four-way tie for second place in the league behind leader Temple. St. Bonaventure falls to 12-9 and 5-4.

UMass trailed for much of the first half but took the lead for keeps on a Morgan 3 just 31 seconds into the second half. While the Bonnies cut a 12-point lead to three with 8:34 left, the Minutemen responded with a 17-2 burst over five minutes to put the game in the win column.

"I thought in the first half they were controlling tempo. Their physicality was bothering us. They were more physical and bigger," UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. "Our guys showed some resiliency in the second half. We made some threes, we forced tempo and our press bothered them some."

Morgan, the 6-foot-5 sophomore guard from Philadelphia, had only eight points -- and two treys -- in the first half. Of his 16 second-half points, 12 of them came from outside the arc.

"My teammates just did a good job of finding me," said Morgan. "I just tried to get into a rhythm and hit shots."

It was, however, a first-half shot, that everyone wanted to talk about.

UMass had cut a 10-point Bonaventure lead to three when Terrell Vinson made 1 of 2 free throws. The Bonnies’ Chris Johnson answered with a 3-point play to put UMass down 34-28 with 23 seconds left.

The Minutemen played for the final shot, which Morgan took. The 4,253 fans in the Mullins Center erupted.

"I expected him to hit that shot," UMass point guard Chaz Williams said. "The possession before that, he told me that when I come off the screen, he was going to get open. He made the shot and that just carried us into the locker room with momentum."

Williams started the UMass run on a layup just 10 seconds into the half. Sean Carter stole the ball from Bonaventure’s Charlon Kloof, passed the ball to Morgan and Morgan drained a trey. That forced St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt to call the first of two time outs in the opening two minutes of the half. Neither stoppage slowed down the Minutemen.

"It was fantastic to see them do that," said Kellogg of his team’s start. "You can’t really draw it up and I don’t envision how we come out at halftime. I do envision how the game might be played. To see us go on that nice run that continued for a little while was what really sealed the game."

Williams had 17 points and 5 assists for the Minutemen and Vinson added 10 points. Andrew Nicholson led St. Bonaventure with 24 points.

To reach Howard Herman:

hherman@berkshireeagle.com;

(413) 496-6253;

On Twitter: @howardherman.