UMass 55, Dayton 50

UMass thrilled with ‘ugly’ win

By Marty Dobrow
Globe Correspondent / January 10, 2011

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AMHERST — Basketball fans and dry cleaners in Amherst were in high spirits last night after a singularly ugly game in which University of Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg was looking good and feeling even better.

“I thought it would be good for conference play to break out the suits, and show that we mean business,’’ said Kellogg, after his Minutemen gutted out a 55-50 victory over Dayton in UMass’s Atlantic 10 opener.

Through 13 games of nonconference play, Kellogg and his staff had bucked traditional coaching finery by working in polo shirts and slacks. The “casual Friday’’ look had seemed like a good-luck charm through a 7-0 start. But in losing five of their last six, it seemed like more of a wardrobe malfunction — especially after the team was completely undressed at Central Connecticut last week, 92-63.

Equal parts statement game and fashion statement game, the Minutemen returned to a style of play that focused on defense and rebounding. They made the Flyers (13-4, 1-1) fight for shots. On the glass, where UMass has struggled much of the season, the Minutemen owned a 41-31 edge.

It was the first time UMass (9-5, 1-0) had hosted Dayton at the Mullins Center since Feb. 25, 2006, the date the court was dedicated for Jack Leaman. Known for his legendary emphasis on defense, the man who coached Julius Erving in college would have liked that part of UMass’s effort.

Another Western Massachusetts hoop eminence, though, might have been rolling over in his grave. The original Dr. J — James Naismith — had named the sport “Basket Ball’’ because the object was to put the sphere in the peach baskets, and that sure wasn’t happening yesterday.

Both teams shot under 30 percent from the field (Dayton 28.6, UMass 27.3). Of the 20 players who logged minutes, none hit better than 50 percent of his shots.

“It was an ugly game, but it was the way we wanted it to be,’’ said UMass senior point guard Gary Correia, who returned after missing three games with a stomach ailment. “We wanted it to be ugly.’’

The game was filled with all kinds of statistical oddities. UMass made just 12 field goals, tying a record by any team for the fewest since the Mullins Center opened in 1993. In the first 10 minutes of the second half, the Minutemen did not hit a shot from the field — yet actually extended their halftime lead from 8 to 10.

The Minutemen scored most of their points (29) from the free throw line, led by Anthony Gurley, who connected on all 10 of his attempts. That offset Gurley’s 2-for-10 shooting from the field. Still, the senior hit the game’s biggest shot, a 3-pointer with 3:03 left, after Dayton had carved a 12-point UMass lead to 2.

“The shot clock was going down,’’ said Gurley (15 points), who has led UMass in scoring in 13 of its 14 games. “I saw an opening.’’

“We screwed up the coverage on that play, and gave their best player a wide-open shot,’’ said Brian Gregory, coach of a Dayton team that had won six in a row.

Gregory credited UMass for having greater intensity throughout. “If you don’t play with great energy, you don’t shoot the ball as well, you definitely don’t rebound,’’ he said. “And it’s hard to complain about the discrepancy in free throws if the other team is playing with greater energy than you are.’’

That sense of urgency was borne of some desperation, according to Correia, who reclaimed the reins at point guard from freshman Daryl Traynham, suspended earlier in the week by Kellogg for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

Asked how badly the win was needed, Correia said, “Very, very bad. We lost five of our last six before this. Our confidence was not sky-high.’’

After grounding the Flyers, the Minutemen now hop on board the big bird for the first time all season. A UMass team that has played all its games in Massachusetts or Connecticut heads to Ohio for Wednesday’s game at Xavier.