AMHERST - Following the first big snowstorm of the year, lots of kids in New England spent yesterday afternoon on their backsides, skidding along low-friction surfaces at high speed.
Luke Bonner was no different. The 7-footer from Concord, N.H., spent much of the first half sliding on his posterior on the parquet floor of the Mullins Center. He drew four charges, igniting UMass to a 48-32 halftime lead, en route to a convincing 97-81 victory over Hofstra.
"Charge-taking I'm pretty sure was invented in New Hampshire," said Bonner, back for the first time after missing seven games with a strained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. "If you go watch a New Hampshire high school game, you'll see like 1,000 charges. I feel it's a level of toughness to step in there and take one. And it's so demoralizing for the other team. That's probably my favorite play in basketball."
According to UMass coach Derek Kellogg, "He took more charges tonight in the first half than we took the entire time he was out."
Bonner was not just blazing along on his toboggan. He proved equally effective in a vertical orientation, posting career highs with 15 points and nine rebounds. He was 3 of 5 from 3-point land. There, he said, he took inspiration from his brother, Matt Bonner of the San Antonio Spurs, who leads the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage.
Luke Bonner had plenty of company yesterday with long-range accuracy. After the UMass women broke a school record with 14 3-pointers in the first game of the doubleheader in a win over Northeastern, the men tied their school record by making 15. The 15-of-26 performance (57.7 percent) included 5 of 7 from Anthony Gurley, who led the Minutemen with 19 points, 2 of 3 each for Matt Glass and Gary Correia, and 2 of 4 from emerging freshman David Gibbs.
With a career-high 11 points, Gibbs authored the game's signature play. Midway through the second half, he batted away a pass in the backcourt, gathered the ball on a diagonal dart to the hoop, and soared high over the defense for a tomahawk jam.
"He's starting to look like a major college player," said Kellogg, who credited a key Gibbs 3-pointer late in last week's upset over Kansas with the freshman's escalating confidence.
Other than a feeble rebounding effort (Hofstra outboarded UMass, 61-32, including a whopping 36 offensive caroms), the Minutemen showed no letdown from the surprise win over the Jayhawks.
"They were empowered by their win last week, and they built off of that," said Tom Pecora, coach of an 8-2 Hofstra squad whose eight-game winning streak came to an end. "That's the sign of a good team."
UMass (4-6) has won three in a row. After watching Bonner go down in the second game, the Minutemen had a series of excruciating losses. Two came by a point. Another was an overtime loss to Boston College. Watching those defeats was particularly tough for Bonner, a fan favorite known for his colorful blog, his old-school sky hooks, and his pleasant off-court disposition.
Informed that Kellogg had referred to him as being "a little bit mean" in a basketball sense, Bonner smiled broadly.
"I take that as a compliment. When you get between the lines, you play as hard as you can. You're an animal. You do whatever you can to win the game, within the rules. Then you step off the court with a level of class and humility. I like that Coach recognizes that, that he doesn't take kindness off the court for weakness."