CINCINNATI – Badly needing a win to keep its hopes for an at-large bid the NCAA Tournament alive, the University of Massachusetts men’s basketball team grabbed a victory at one of the hardest venues for Atlantic 10 road teams to get one.
Xavier had been 52-2 against league teams at the Cintas Center since 2007, but the Minutemen shook off early adversity to beat the Musketeers, 77-72, Saturday.
“We needed it bad to keep our tournament hopes alive. It’s good that we got the win and we came out here and played and fought through adversity early,” senior Freddie Riley said. “It was a good team win. We’re maturing. We have a pretty old team. We’re trying to make sure we come out and handle business and take advantage of every opportunity that’s handed to us.”
When 3-pointers are falling for UMass, some other problems don’t seem to hurt quite as much.
Foul trouble, rebounding woes, poor free throw shooting and one of toughest games of Chaz Williams’ career didn’t matter as the Minutemen made a season-high 13 3-pointers, including nine in the second half.
With Williams limited to 22 minutes by foul trouble, two seniors and a freshman picked up the Minutemen (18-9, 8-6 Atlantic 10). Riley and Terrell Vinson led the 3-point barrage. Riley scored all 18 of his points on his six 3s. He shot 6-for-10 overall and 5-for-6 in the second half. Vinson was 4-for-5 in the game and made all three he attempted after intermission as part of his game-high 20 points.
“They were good shots. On the road you want those shots to go in and they went in,” Vinson said. “It really answered what there were doing. They scored at the other end. They were trading baskets with us. We were getting 3s and they were getting 2s. It increased the lead in our favor.”
Riley was surprised his shooting was as sharp as it was.
“I don’t know how I did it. I was real tired trying to chase (Xavier guard Brad) Redford around the whole game,” Riley said. “I got some open looks and I put them in.”
UMass was actually better from 3-point range, shooting 13-for 25 (52 percent) than it was from 1-point range as the Minutemen shot 10-for-20 from the free throw line.
“We shoot a lot of 3s. It was fortunate that we went on a run (of making them),” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “The reality is, They were good shots. There weren’t many that were forced.”
Freshman Trey Davis played 18 minutes in Williams’ absence and responded with career-highs in points (12) and assists (six). Ten of his points came in the first half where he helped UMass cut Xavier’s lead from eight points at 22-14 with 8:13 left until intermission to 35-34 at halftime despite Williams (three first half fouls), Sampson Carter (two) and Cady Lalanne (two) all on the bench.
“I thought the difference was their 3-point shooting and our lack of energy on the defensive end to keep the ball out of the lane,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “I thought the kid Trey Davis did a really good job coming in for Chaz Williams. He really stepped up and he gave us every bit as much trouble as we’ve had with Chaz in the past. UMass has a very talented team and they took it to us today.”
Lalanne’s return helped negate Xavier’s 26-15 first half rebounding edge and the Minutemen continued to make shots.
Lalanne (nine points, eight rebounds) converted a three-point play to open the half giving UMass its first lead of the game before the teams went back and forth early in the second.
With the game tied 53-53, Riley hit 3-pointers to start and end an 8-1 run that gave the
Minutemen a 61-54 lead with 11:11 remaining.
Xavier (16-12, 8-6 A-10) got within one possession on four occasions after that, but each time the UMass immediately answered including twice on 3-pointers by Riley.
“We really didn’t come out and do what we needed to do,” said Xavier junior Isaiah Philmore (14 points). “They hit a lot of threes, some of them we weren’t there to contest,”
Freshman guard Semaj Christon led the Musketeers with 17 points.
Vinson said the Minutemen had to put the win behind them and focus on Thursday’s game against No. 20 Butler at 7 p.m. the Mullins Center.
“We don’t want to relax and get comfortable,” he said. “We have two games left in the season and they’re just as important as this game.”