UMass men cruise at home to win over NIU
AMHERST -- The weather outside might have been frightful. Inside the Mullins Center, it was anything but.
The University of Massachusetts put its 22nd ranking in the Associated Press poll and undefeated season on the line against Northern Illinois Saturday afternoon. The visiting Huskies scored the game's first basket, but the Minutemen responded with a huge run and rolled to a decisive 80-54 victory before 4,694 at the Mullins Center.
"It's all positive, but we could have played a little better in spurts," UMass coach Derek Kellogg said after the game. "We got a little careless with the basketball more than anything and our defense came and went.
"All in all, our guys won the game, took care of business and we're going to move on to the next game."
It was a comfortable kind of a day for UMass, now 9-0. Once the Minutemen got a lead at 5-2, they never trailed. The visitors from the Mid-American Conference trailed by double figures for most of the game, and the closest they got in the second half was 44-35 with 14:34 left. Northern Illinois fell to 3-5.
How comfortable of an afternoon did it turn out to be? Freshman Clyde Santee came off the bench late in the second half and scored 13 points in 6 minutes. He actually had more points than Northern Illinois' leading scorer Dontel Highsmith, who had 10.
"I was just doing what Coach wanted me to do," said the 6-foot-7 freshman guard from Houston, "making the shot and being where I need to be on defense. All the right things."
Five different Minutemen scored in double figures Saturday. Cady Lalanne led the way with 17, while Raphiael Putney and Santee had 13 each and Chaz Williams and Maxie Esho chipped in with 12 points a piece.
Northern Illinois' visit is part of the deal UMass has with the MAC to play football. It was the last home game of the semester and with finals, it could have been the dreaded trap game. Kellogg was having nothing of it.
"The intensity wasn't exactly where we needed to be, but I thought we practiced pretty well for a couple of days," he said. "We just didn't go very long. For all the time we haven't played [since last Saturday], we haven't practiced in a high, high level for a while."
It was Putney who triggered the game for the Minutemen. Travon Baker stole the ball from UMass' Sampson Carter and fed Darrell Bowie for a game-opening dunk. Derrick Gordon answered with a hoop to tie the game.
Highsmith turned the ball over and Carter found Putney for a 3-point shot from the top of the key, giving UMass a 5-2 lead with 18:40 to play. It was the first of three consecutive treys by Putney. And when the 6-foot-9 senior drained the third, NIU coach Mark Montgomery was forced to call a time out.
That stoppage didn't slow down UMass, as the Minutemen went on a 19-3 run that Putney ended when he slammed the ball home to finish off a fast break with 12:11 left in the game.
"That's something that Coach preaches all the time, getting off to a big lead," said Lalanne.
That big lead was just too much for the Huskies to come back from. The Minutemen led 40-28 at halftime and gradually pulled away in the second half.
UMass outrebounded the smaller Northern Illinois team 41-27 and had an outstanding 14-8 advantage on the offensive glass. That translated into a 23-5 scoring advantage in second-chance points.
Williams had seven of the Minutemen's 22 assists. UMass had a 22-12 assist-to-turnover ratio, and that's something Kellogg and his staff will take every time.