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Trey Davis gives Minutemen lift during first-half comeback

  • Massachusetts guard Trey Davis walks to the sidelines to have his contact lens adjusted during an NCAA college basketball game against Xavier, Saturday, March 2, 2013, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

    Massachusetts guard Trey Davis walks to the sidelines to have his contact lens adjusted during an NCAA college basketball game against Xavier, Saturday, March 2, 2013, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Al Behrman) Purchase photo reprints »

  • University of Massachusetts guard Trey Davis walks to the sidelines to have his contact lens adjusted against Xavier on Saturday in Cincinnati. Davis scored 12 points in a 77-72 win by UMass. (AP Photo)

    University of Massachusetts guard Trey Davis walks to the sidelines to have his contact lens adjusted against Xavier on Saturday in Cincinnati. Davis scored 12 points in a 77-72 win by UMass. (AP Photo) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Massachusetts guard Trey Davis walks to the sidelines to have his contact lens adjusted during an NCAA college basketball game against Xavier, Saturday, March 2, 2013, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)
  • University of Massachusetts guard Trey Davis walks to the sidelines to have his contact lens adjusted against Xavier on Saturday in Cincinnati. Davis scored 12 points in a 77-72 win by UMass. (AP Photo)

CINCINNATI — After watching the Xavier defense in the first few minutes of Saturday’s game, University of Massachusetts freshman guard Trey Davis turned to fellow rookie Tyler Bergantino and predicted that he might have a chance at success during the contest.

“I could just tell,” Davis said. “In the first minute, I told Tyler ‘I’m going to get in there and I’m going to do good.’ ”

His prediction proved prophetic. Chaz Williams got into foul trouble with three first-half whistles and Davis made the most of his chance. When Williams came out with 10 minutes, 8 seconds left until intermission, the Minutemen trailed by nine. Davis, who previously had 20 first-half points all year, scored 10 before intermission and helped lead the comeback that cut the deficit to 35-34 at halftime.

Davis finished with career highs in points (12) and assists (six) in the 77-72 win by UMass. That made him the first player other than Williams to lead the Minutemen in assists in their last 33 games.

Williams has taken pride all year in mentoring his freshman teammate and praised Davis’ performance Saturday.

“I’m real proud,” Williams said. “Anytime Trey has a big game I’m really proud of him because it shows he’s really paying attention and working hard. He’s ready to step up and be a good point guard.”

Teammate Freddie Riley agreed.

“Everyone is proud of Trey for coming in and really holding us down, keeping us alive and really putting us on his back in the first half,” Riley said. “Everyone is proud of him and the way Tyler played as well. It was a total team effort.”

While Davis has been inconsistent at times, he’s never doubted he was capable.

“His confidence is maybe better than he actually is, which makes him better,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “For him to come in and do what he did against a high-powered team in the road in the first half … he made some mistakes and did some things you might not want your point guard to do.

“But he’ll improve and get better,” Kellogg added. “He’s proved now and he’s proved in a couple of other games that he can help us win basketball games.”

The coaching staff encouraged Davis to act on that confidence this week.

“I talked to my coaches a few days back,” Davis said. “They said I shoot it well in practice, but I never shoot in games. They said I need to be more aggressive and look for my shot.”

Davis’ success seemed to rattle the Musketeers.

“You would think when a team’s best player goes out, you’d be able to get the lead or gain some momentum but UMass didn’t really miss a beat,” Xavier guard Brad Redford said. “Their backup came in and did a good job, hit some shots. We didn’t do a very good job of taking advantage of Chaz being out of the game.”

Musketeer junior forward Isaiah Philmore was angry.

“When Chaz goes out of the game, it’s when you’re supposed to take over. It’s their bread and butter. That’s their guy,” he said. “With him out of the game, we didn’t finish plays, get loose balls. It was embarrassing. ”

STANDINGS PICTURE — The win officially assures the Minutemen of making the Atlantic 10 Tournament and keeps them in contention for one of the four first-round byes.

UMass is tied for sixth place in the conference with Xavier at 8-6. If the Minutemen and Musketeers finish in a two-way tie, UMass would get the higher seed because of Saturday’s win.

The Minutemen are a game back of Temple and Butler, who are tied for fourth at 9-5. UMass could catch Butler when the teams play at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Mullins Center.

However, the Minutemen need help to pass the Owls who won their regular-season game. Temple closes its season with games at Fordham on Wednesday and at home against Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday.

The best UMass can finish is third if it wins its two remaining games, including its regular-season finale Saturday at Rhode Island, and gets a lot of help. The worst case would be an 11th-place finish with two losses and other results not going the Minutemen’s way.

OUTSIDE PROFICIENCY — UMass had its best shooting performance from 3-point range (13 of 25, 52 percent) for the second straight game. The Minutemen were seven-for-14 in their 76-66 win over Dayton on Feb. 23.

After seeing Williams burn them for 29 points last year, Xavier appeared to be trying to seal off the junior guard when he wasn’t in foul trouble. That attention freed up Terrell Vinson (20 points) and Riley(18)who combined to shoot 10-for-15 from deep.

MILESTONES — Williams’ performance was one of his most forgettable statistically. But his six points gave him 1,045 in his UMass career and moved him up two spots to No. 37 on the Minutemen’s all-time list.

His four assists gave him 201 this season, the sixth time a Minuteman has had 200 or more. Williams is the only player with two such seasons.

NEXT UP — UMass will be back in action at 7 p.m. Thursday for senior night against No. 20 Butler. The Bulldogs are coming off an 84-52 loss at Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday as they struggled against the Rams’ pressure just as the Minutemen did Feb. 14.

MISCELLANEOUS — Both coaches were called for first-half technical fouls Saturday ... The crowd of 9,633 was the largest to see a UMass game this season.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at @GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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