Ten dunks by Minutemen energize weather-reduced crowd at Mullins Center
Maxie Esho of UMass, center, fights Langston Galloway of St. Joseph's, left, for the rebound during Saturday's game at UMass on February 9, 2013. Halil Kanacevic of St. Joseph's, right, looks on. SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »
AMHERST — Chaz Williams spotted Maxie Esho moving freely along the baseline to the left of the basket and the two University of Massachusetts teammates knew what was coming next Saturday night.
Esho has quite the collection of highlight film dunks on his college resume, many of which came on the finishing end of Williams’ alley-oop lobs.
But even Esho thought this one stood out. Williams jabbed to the basket like he was driving and then sent the ball floating toward the rim. Esho caught the pass on the way up with his back facing the basket and finished a reverse alley-oop midway through the first half.
“It’s probably number one,” Esho said when asked where it ranked. “I don’t really look for them. I’m used to catching them in practice like that. It was more natural than anything.”
Natural only for someone with Esho’s leaping ability.
The play kicked off a dunking exhibition for the Minutemen, who had 10 dunks in their 80-62 win over Saint Joseph’s by six different dunkers.
“It was a dunk-fest out there,” Esho said. “We all feed off each other. We’re happy to see each other dunk and make big plays. It gets each other hyped and excited and makes the next person want to go and make the same play.”
Esho finished another when Terrell Vinson stole an inbounds pass and alertly lofted it toward the net. Esho caught it one-handed and stuffed it through the hoop.
“When Maxie is playing with good energy, which I thought he did in that second-half stretch there, he’s a valuable piece for us, especially when we’re pressing and running and getting the game up and down,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “His athleticism, his length, gives us another weapon out there, especially on the front of the press.”
Vinson, Cady Lalanne, Raphiael Putney, Sampson Carter and Freddie Riley also dunked in the game.
Kellogg started Thursday’s practice with a drill that looked like pregame layup lines except the players are all encouraged to dunk. The drill often helps energize the players.
“In practice it gets a little bit competitive,” Esho said. “Everyone takes turns showing what they got.”
Kellogg enjoys watching it.
“These guys are good athletes, they’re fun to watch, and sometimes, in practice, it gets them going,” he said. “A lot of times, just to get the energy up in practice, I’ll go, ‘All right, let’s do two-line layups and have some fun.’”
The crowd of paying customers at the Mullins Center was thinned by the weather. But the conditions may have increased the number of students in attendance. The storm left them with few other options than to show up and they represented a significant portion of the 4,479 fans in the building. They were energized at the beginning and the dunks added to that.
“We’ve been trying to get a good student section here for a long time. Obviously, it’s getting better,” Kellogg said. “It’s building. And to have that many students here tonight and actually have some dunks and hear them get excited ... hopefully, they’ll come back.”
GAME MOVED BACK — Until the snow actually arrived, UMass held out hope of starting the game at its scheduled 2 p.m. tip-off time on national television (ESPN2). But when the snow fell in massive quantities and Gov. Deval Patrick issued a travel ban, athletic director John McCutcheon, who was in constant contact with Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy, elected to push back the game to 7 p.m.
“It’s public safety first and along with that the ability to get the appropriate game staff here safely so we can conduct the game the right way,” McCutcheon said before the game. “We didn’t want to have an event going on in conflict with a restriction where people couldn’t get on the road. We could have had the game (at 2 p.m.), but it would have been difficult.
“We didn’t want to have to give up the ESPN2 game,” he added. “There’s an obligation with the conference that if there’s any way you can try to satisfy the TV obligation, you try to do it. But even the local producer from ESPN said you can’t do this right now.”
HOFSTRA REFUGEES — The game marked the third meeting between Chaz Williams and former teammate Halil Kanacevic, who both began their careers at Hofstra. They transferred when coach Tom Pecora left to become the head coach at Fordham.
Kanacevic had 12 points for the Hawks while Williams had 11 for the Minutemen.
MILESTONES — Vinson’s 18 points gave him 1,138 in his career. He moved into 31st place on the UMass career list, passing No. 32 Mike Williams (1,122) and No. 21 Gary Forbes (1,128). Next up is Lari Ketner and Will Herndon, who are tied with 1,148.
Williams’ 11 points gave him 982 in his UMass career as he attempts to become the 44th member of UMass’ 1,000-point club. Including his one year at Hofstra, Williams has 1,307 career points.
NEXT UP — The Minutemen (16-6, 6-3 Atlantic 10) are off until Thursday when they square off with Virginia Commonwealth at 9 p.m. in Richmond. The Rams are 19-5 (7-2 A-10) and on a three-game winning streak.
“Now we get to go down and take a couple swipes at a VCU team that we kind of pattern how we play a little bit, like they play or vice versa,” Kellogg said. “... It’s going to be a fun atmosphere, a fun game.
“Really, I think it’s going to be up and down and both teams are going to play a fun style,” he added. “It’ll be Havoc (the name VCU has given to its style of play) vs. UMass basketball. It’ll be fun.”
MISCELLANEOUS — The 14-point halftime lead for the Minutemen matched their biggest of the season ... UMass has won three straight games against Saint Joseph’s at the Mullins Center.
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.