A back-and-forth effort in Charleston ended in blowout fashion as a late run by the UMass Minutemen vaulted them past the No. 19 New Mexico Lobos, 81-65, in the semifinals of the Charleston Classic. A dunk by Raphiael Putney broke a 61-61 tie with 7:35 to play and kicked off the decisive 20-4 run. Putney finished with 18 points while Chaz Williams scored a game-high 19 with five assists and five rebounds.
Williams was held in check on Thursday night but, predictably, raised his game on Friday afternoon against Kendall Williams and the Lobos. The Minutemen point guard made 3-of-6 from thee and all four of his free throw attempts. Kendall WIlliams finished with just 13 points and turned the ball over a team-high seven times.
The matchup of the game was, also predictably, Cady Lalanne vs. Alex Kirk inside. Kirk was an animal all over the floor, scoring a game-, season- and career-high 32 points to go with 11 rebounds and five blocks. The seven-foot center made 4-of-7 from three and was a tough cover for the more traditional UMass center. Lalanne had himself what is turning into a typical game: 16 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks. Both big men were impressive and their individual battle was part of what made this such a fun game to watch.
But really what made this such a fun game was the way UMass plays. That up-and-down style of play is a dream for basketball fans in the TV era, even if its a nightmare for those of us who are confined to watching on cell phones at work. They just flat out fly. In the four games since the season-opening win over Boston College, UMass had had at least 81 offenseive possessions, good for a top-15 rate in the country.
With players like Williams, Putney, Derrick Gordon, Trey Davis, Sampson Carter and Maxie Esho getting a ton of minutes, playing with that kind of speed is going to win a lot of games for UMass and will have it in a good position for when they face VCU in Atlantic-10 play.
Also in UMass' favor: balanced scoring.
UMass has been routinely putting players in double digits this season and Friday was no different as four players scored at least 11 points. Carter and Esho were the other two players to score, scoring nine and eight points, respectively.
When you don't know where the offense is going to come from, you have no hopes of stopping it. Containment is an option, but as we have seen through five games, it isn't any easier a proposition.