Derrick Gordon showed up in Charleston with the legs that everyone had been waiting to see and helped lift the UMass Minutemen to a 96-90 win over Nebraska in the first round of the Charleston Classic. Gordon will need to keep up a similar level of play on Friday as UMass faces its toughest opponent of the year in No. 19 New Mexico.
The transfer from Western Kentucky was brilliant, scoring a UMass career-high 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field with four rebounds and two steals. The Minutemen needed him in a big way with Chaz Williams saddled with foul trouble and limited to just 25 minutes and 10 points. Showing the depth of offensive ability on this team, Derek Kellogg's bunch put six players in double digits on Thursday afternoon, leaving Nebraska with decisions to make on defense with almost every option being the wrong one.
Good teams have balance, and UMass looked like a very good team on Thursday.
Now the attention turns to a game that will show how far the Minutemen have come and how capable they are of making a tournament run. New Mexico was a tournament team last year and will likely be one again in 2013-14, giving UMass yet another opportunity to take its temperature against one of the better teams in the country.
Here are some things to look for on Friday afternoon as the Minutemen and Lobos meet up in Charleston.
Bounce Back Chaz
Williams is loathe to sit and watch like he did for long stretches on Thursday so he should be looking to turn his game around on Friday with the challenge of New Mexico and Kendall Williams. Chaz vs. Kendall will not only be entertaining, but it will be a nightmare for beat writers and twitter people who are used to just saying Williams. The basketball will be fun, but so will all the first-name references.
Cady vs. Kirk
Cady Lalanne is the midst of a fine season and will have the opportunity to show what he has against one of the better big men in the country in Alex Kirk. Lalanne is big and bruising, but so is Kirk. Lalanne is averaging a double-double with 17.8 points and 10.5 rebounds, Kirk is averaging 18.7 and 12. Kirk is averaging four blocks per game, Lalanne is averaging two. This is going to be a (literal) heavyweight matchup and I can't wait to see how it plays out.
Can UMass keep winning close games?
LSU and Nebraska have played UMass to similar games, both in the 90s and both decided by less than 10 points. While it shows the type of senior leadership UMass has that it can hang on at the end of games, make free throws and gain enough space to win, but it also is a dangerous way to live. Friday's game promises to have a similar pace and outcome so the question becomes can the Minutemen pull out another 90+ point performance and come away with a win? They have the horses and the leaders to do it, but sometimes the fates like to return things to an equilibrium.
UMass and New Mexico tip off at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN2 and can be seen both on TV and on the Watch ESPN app.