Seton Hall 104, UMass 79

Seton Hall hammers Minutemen

Pirates set arena record for points

By Marty Dobrow
Globe Correspondent / December 12, 2010

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AMHERST – As the University of Massachusetts Minutemen break for final exams the next 11 days, it is hard to grade them on their first 10 games of the season.

“Even though we’re at 7-3, this is not the 7-3 I was looking for,’’ said UMass coach Derek Kellogg.

Indeed, a season that began with questions, then soared with hopes, is now clouded in doubt after a third straight loss — a 104-79 whipping at the hands of Seton Hall (4-4) last night. The Minutemen played hard, but were outrun, outmuscled, and out-executed by a team that was missing its best player.

The 104 points set a record for the most scored by any team in the 17-year history of the Mullins Center.

“We’ve been struggling to score over the last seven games,’’ said first-year Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, a disciple of Rick Pitino’s. “We don’t have an offense that focuses on one player. We have some really good players on this team. They’re starting to play like that.’’

The Pirates (whose losses were all single-digit affairs to solid teams: Temple, Xavier, Clemson, and Arkansas) have been without Jeremy Hazell, a 24-points-per-game scorer, since the third game of the year when he broke his left wrist. Last night they hardly missed him.

They connected on a whopping 60 percent of their field goals and had seven players hit for double figures. In the second half, the Pirates had one easy bucket after another, thanks to an aggressive and unselfish halfcourt offense, orchestrated by point guard Jordan Theodore (a team-high 17 points and a game-high 8 assists).

“He dominated the game,’’ said Kellogg. “I thought he was fantastic.’’

UMass did get a game-high 26 points from Anthony Gurley, who connected on 11 of 20 field goals. The Minutemen also got some spark from Freddie Riley (14 points), and a feisty 9-point, 10-rebound effort from Sampson Carter, but little else.

The Minutemen led early, then found themselves fighting from behind as the Pirates started connecting from all over the court (11 for 22 from 3-point land). UMass trimmed a 15-point first-half deficit to 4, then fell behind again by 13 at the break.

The Minutemen quickly shaved that advantage to 7 in the second half, fell behind again by 13, cut it to 6, then lost contact altogether as Seton Hall grabbed control.

“We made our runs, but we just had some defensive breakdowns,’’ said senior point guard Gary Correia. “We’d push and push and push, but we couldn’t get over the hump.’’

Certain holes in UMass’s team have been exposed in recent losses to Boston College, Maine, and Seton Hall. The lack of a viable post presence has been exploited by teams with a solid interior. There has been no real offensive production from the center tandem of Sean Carter and Hashim Bailey (suspended for a game last night for violating team rules). Power forward Terrell Vinson, expected to be one of the team’s strengths, has struggled all year. Nagging foot injuries have caused him a loss in explosiveness, and he has looked tentative on the court.

Last night Seton Hall dominated inside, thanks largely to Herb Pope, who scored 11 points, grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds, and swatted away half of the Pirates’ 10 blocked shots. Kellogg said that he was effectively playing a “one-man zone.’’

The point-guard tandem of Correia and feisty freshman Daryl Traynham (his second technical foul of the season) was overmatched by Theodore.

And UMass has been all too dependent on Gurley. The senior from Boston is averaging 20.9 points per game and hitting well over 50 percent of his shots, but for the team to have a successful season more offensive options must emerge.

“He’s starting to feel like he’s got to do too much on his own,’’ said Kellogg.

The Minutemen return to action Dec. 22 when they host Central Florida.