UMass rebuffs AIC
Minutemen rally after ragged start
AMHERST — In his first two seasons as coach at the University of Massachusetts, Derek Kellogg came to the Thanksgiving poultry knowing that certain fans believed the old saying, “You are what you eat.’’
This year, though, Kellogg comes to the table with plenty to relish.
After last night’s 83-56 rout of American International, the Minutemen are 5-0. It’s the first time in 15 years UMass has started on such a high-five. (That 1995-96 team opened with 26 straight wins, spending most of the season ranked No. 1 and making it to the Final Four.)
“It feels great,’’ said Kellogg, whose first two teams went 12-18 and 12-20. “But the biggest thing about coaches is we’re never satisfied. I’m probably going to fester all day [today]: Where can we get this team better? Where can we improve?’’
For the first half last night, it appeared the bird UMass was likely to be eating on Thanksgiving was crow. After Monday night’s 67-48 romp over Texas Christian, Kellogg declared that he was “ecstatic’’ with his team.
Not so for the first 20 minutes last night. Division 2 AIC completely outplayed UMass, trailing by 1 at the break (35-34) only because the Yellow Jackets connected on just 5 of 15 free throws. In all other dimensions, the Springfield school controlled the play.
After a halftime summit, the Minutemen came out a transformed club. The lead quickly ballooned to double digits, then 20, ultimately 30, before a late AIC 3-pointer carved the final difference to 27 — the largest margin of victory in Kellogg’s three seasons.
In the second half, the defensive intensity returned. There were points off transition. UMass began to control the boards. And senior Anthony Gurley took over.
With a series of aggressive and creative drives, Gurley scored 22 points. In all five games he has led the Minutemen in scoring. He came in connecting on 56.4 percent of his field goals, and improved that, shooting 10 for 16.
“In the second half we definitely stepped it up, our intensity level,’’ said Gurley. “We showed what we are capable of on the defensive end. I think the offense just takes care of itself.’’
Gurley’s improvement has been striking. “His mid-range game is fantastic,’’ said Kellogg. “He’s just not settling for tough, bad shots. He’s playing great basketball.’’
He was not alone. Senior point guard Gary Correia played perhaps his best game as a Minuteman. He matched his career-high with 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting, including 3 for 3 from behind the arc. He also dished out five assists and didn’t commit a turnover.
Correia’s play is going to be a key if the Minutemen are to continue their hot stretch. Before the game it was announced that freshman dynamo Daryl Traynham is expected to miss at least a few games with what is being termed a “stress reaction’’ in his left foot.
AIC (3-2) was paced by Isiah Wallace, who scored 19 points.
UMass returns to action Saturday against Holy Cross. The game will be played in the Minutemen’s former home, Curry Hicks Cage, once the stage of guys named Julius Erving and Rick Pitino. The Minutemen last played at the Cage in 1993.