Athesn, Ohio—UMass has often been the victim of bullying in the Mid-American Conference over the past two years, including a rough 51-23 loss two weeks ago in Athens. Well, tonight it got some revenge, this time on the hardwood as the Minutemen downed Ohio 83-71 in Athens.
The 20th ranked Minutemen (10-0) rolled into Athens Wednesday night boasting an impressive resume and looking to show Ohio (7-3) fans what its like to be embarrassed. They succeeded. They never trailed in the contest, and led by as many as 19 in the final minutes of a game they controlled from the start.
The Bobcats couldn't get anything to fall at first, while their opponents scored with ease. Chaz Williams orchestrated an offensive attack that picked the Bobcats apart on the inside. With bigs Raphiael Putney and Maxie Esho scoring at will the Minutemen rattled off 24 points in the paint in the first half alone. Oh, and then there was UMass' big junior center Cady Lalanne who intimidated Ohio's bigs en route to seven points, eight rebounds and five blocks on the night.
"We can't play like that," Ohio head coach Jim Christian said after the loss. "As poorly as we did some things we had some opportunities to take over this basketball game, and make free throws and make open shots." The Minutemen's smothering defense held the Bobcats to 41 percent from the field and 22.7 percent from behind the arc. Ohio looked like an inferior team Wednesday night, and had no answer for UMass' bigger, faster, stronger athletes.
It wasn't all bad for Ohio. The 'Cats wound up hitting a hot streak of sorts late in the first half, hitting 53 percent of their shots with the Nature-boy Maurice Ndour leading the way. He wasn't intimidated by UMass's superior size, and showed it with a few jaw-dropping dunks, including an alley-oop that sent a wave of "OOOHHHSSS" through the crowd. He was tied for the game lead with 16 points, and added six boards, four dimes and a pair of blocks on the night. Nick Kellogg aded 12 points and big Jon Smith had eight and eight on the evening.
Ohio even whittled UMass' lead down to eight points midway through the second half, but every time the Bobcats went knocking, UMass was quick to slam the door on their feet. "Our defense was probably as bad as it's been since I've been here," Christian said. "When you're playing a team like UMass you can't have that many defensive breakdowns that lead to layups. Every timewe got back in the game we made a double mistake. ... I give them credit, they made us pay."
More specifically, Williams made the 'Cats pay. "I'm fortunate to have one of the best point guards in the country on my team," UMass head coach Derek Kellogg said of Williams after the game. Saying he's one of the best may be an understatement. Decked out in a headband and all, Williams oozed basketball from his pours. Even on a night where he went 4-for-11 from the field, he looked like the best player on the court and managed to rack up a double-double—11 points, 11 assists. "The reality of it is he controls the game when he's on his game," Kellogg added. "I thought he did that tonight, not for the full 40 minutes, but definitely in spurts when we needed him to. He took over the game."
For Ohio the loss isn't too terribly bad. Sure, the 'Cats looked sloppy at times. But, it was against an undefeated team ranked No. 1 in RPI. The defense looked sloppy, but it's correctable, and it's not often that the ball just doesn't fall. Ohio will get a chance to rebound on the road Sunday afternoon as they head to Richmond to take on a tough Spiders squad.