With victory at La Salle, UMass finds success in Philadelphia
PHILADELPHIA — After four straight losses to La Salle at Tom Gola Arena and seven losses in its last eight games against the Explorers, University of Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg had a feeling Wednesday’s game would be different.
“The guys had a different edge about them. They were very focused, paid attention to details,” Kellogg said after his team’s 61-60 win. “On the bus ride over, I had confidence that we were going to, maybe not win the game, but I knew we’d at least be there in the end. ... There was a time during the season that I thought we needed to play harder and we weren’t getting to where we needed to, but we’re starting to get to the point where we’re going to compete every time out.”
Philadelphia had been a struggle for UMass, who dropped five straight at La Salle, Temple and Saint Joseph’s over the 2010-11 and 2011-12 regular seasons. But after playing well and losing in overtime at Temple in the last game of the regular season, the Minutemen broke their Philly drought at Drexel in the 2012 National Invitation Tournament. Wednesday’s win gave UMass a two-game winning streak in the city.
Minuteman senior point guard Chaz Williams, who scored the winning layup in the closing seconds, was pleased to keep seniors Freddie Riley and Terrell Vinson from going winless at Tom Gola Arena.
“It gave us a chance to give Freddie and Terrell a win at La Salle,” Williams said. “Coming here was always a tough game. We’re fortunate that we pulled out the win today.”
In the postgame press conference, La Salle coach John Giannini was worried coming into the game that his team wouldn’t respond well after receiving countless accolades after beating No. 9 Butler and No. 16 Virginia Commonwealth last week.
La Salle wasn’t ranked, but it was the best team UMass had beaten this season. Kellogg wasn’t concerned about his team getting two high after the win.
“We’ll be ready to play for Charlotte” Saturday, Kellogg said. “These guys are maturing. This is a good opportunity for us. I’m not saying we’ll win the game, but I do think they’ll be ready to play.”
CLOSE GAMES — This was UMass’ 10th game decided by five points or less. The Minutemen are 9-1 in those games.
Williams now has two winning shots in the last 10 seconds of a game. He hit a layup with four seconds left to beat Siena on Nov. 28. Sampson Carter (Harvard) and Vinson (Providence) also have game-winning shots in the final 10 seconds.
MILESTONES AND STREAKS — Vinson’s seven points gave him 1,084 for his career moving him past Jack Foley (1,081) to No. 33 on UMass’ career scoring list. Next up is Mike Williams (1,122).
Riley’s three 3-point attempts gave him 592 for his career and moved him into a tie for fifth with Rafer Giles.
Raphiael Putney’s first-half 3 ended a streak of 14 straight misses dating back to Jan. 2 at Miami (Ohio).
Williams (six points) failed to reach double figures for just the second time this season and his streak of four straight games leading UMass in scoring was snapped.
NEXT UP — The Minutemen will go from Philadelphia directly to Charlotte, N.C., where UMass plays the 49ers, Saturday at 2 p.m. Charlotte (16-4, 4-2) has been off since falling 82-54 to George Washington Saturday.
The 49ers suffered a key loss Wednesday when leading scorer DeMario Mayfield was suspended indefinitely. He’s expected to miss Saturday’s game.
MISCELLANEOUS — UMass improved to 6-1 in true road games this season. ... La Salle drew 2,723 fans to the game. ... UMass held a shootaround at Drexel Wednesday morning.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.