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UMass is right on target

By Martin Kessler
Globe Correspondent / November 26, 2011
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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas - What a difference a day can make. After shooting an abysmal 2-of-23 from beyond the arc in Thursday’s loss to Florida State, the University of Massachusetts caught fire from deep last night.

The Minutemen (5-1) connected on 15 of 30 3-point attempts and rode their hot hand to an 89-75 victory over Utah in the consolation semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament at Imperial Arena.

“The guys were locked in,’’ said UMass coach Derek Kellogg, whose squad will take on the College of Charleston tonight at 7. “What they did today that we didn’t do yesterday is we shared the ball. If a guy had a better shot, we gave it up.’’

Six players made at least one 3-pointer for the Minutemen, matching a season high. Sophomore guard Jesse Morgan led the way, shooting 5 of 6 from deep, good for a team-high 15 points.

“It seemed like everything was going right,’’ Morgan said. “Coach did a good job of putting me in the right position to score. My teammates were finding me. Everything was clicking.’’

Utah (1-4) came out of the gates on a tear, knocking down 11 of its first 15 shots. Josh Watkins was especially strong in the early going, recording 6 points and four assists in the first six minutes.

Watkins converted a fast-break layup to put Utah up, 6-0, which proved to be the Utes’ largest lead of the game.

Thanks to its full-court press, UMass managed to withstand Utah’s early push.

The Utes struggled with turnovers throughout the first half, coughing up the ball 12 times - including turnovers on three straight possessions. The Minutemen capitalized, scoring 15 points off turnovers in the first half.

UMass took control midway through the first half thanks to Morgan, who hit all five of his 3-point attempts before the break. He entered the game shooting 21 percent from beyond the arc.

“I thought Jesse really kept us in the game in the first half,’’ Kellogg said. “Honestly, I’ve been waiting for that to happen because we see him in practice.

“To see him shoot the ball the way he’s capable of was a good sign.’’

The guard’s second triple, with 9:31 to play in the half, gave UMass a 27-24 lead. The Utes answered as Anthony Odunsi knocked down a three on the other end.

But the Minutemen found Morgan in the same spot on the ensuing possession, and he knocked down his third 3-pointer to put UMass back up by 3.

The Minutemen led the rest of the way. UMass went into the break leading, 44-35.

UMass extended its lead to 16 after Freddie Riley and Terrell Vinson combined for a trio of 3-pointers and Riley found Raphiael Putney in transition for an alley-oop slam.

Watkins responded with three straight layups to bring Utah within 58-48.

But that was as close as the Utes would get, as UMass went on an 18-6 run to go ahead, 76-54, with 7:44 to play.

Watkins, who entered the contest averaging 19 points per game, finished with a game-high 16 points.

“It’s like Emmitt Smith coming at you with a basketball,’’ said Kellogg of Watkins. “The kid’s physical, he’s fast. Watching him on tape, we knew that.’’

Utah will take on UNC-Asheville tonight at 9:30.

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