UMass still on a home run
Second-half surge lifts Minutemen
AMHERST - It was like when you come home from a long trip out of town, walk into the house in the dark, and don’t bother to flip on the light switch because, well, it’s your home. And then you trip over an ottoman that wasn’t in that spot when you left.
The University of Massachusetts had been away from home for 11 days and had played four of its five games since mid-January in locations other than the friendly confines of Mullins Center, where the Minutemen were unbeaten.
They finally stepped onto their familiar hardwood last night, though for a while it was anything but home sweet home. Missed layups. Bricks from outside. Tripping over ottomans.
It took UMass an out-of-sorts first half to get its bearings, but a 14-0 run out of halftime propelled the Minutemen to a 76-67 victory over St. Bonaventure before 4,253, their 12th straight home win.
With their 12th victory in their last 15 overall, the Minutemen remained tied for second place in the Atlantic 10 (7-3, 18-6 overall).
That 14-0 run? It really was 17-0, as Jesse Morgan (24 points on 9-of-13 shooting) had nailed a 3-pointer at the first-half buzzer to pull the Minutemen within 3 after a clumsy first half during which they were 1 of 7 from beyond the arc at one point and doing not much better inside the lane.
Then, after UMass came out of the locker room and got a basket from Chaz Williams (17 points, team-leading six rebounds for the 5-foot-9-inch point guard) on its first possession, Morgan stole the inbounds pass and immediately fired up a 3-pointer that gave the Minutemen the lead.
Their pressure defense was getting to the Bonnies (12-9, 5-4), and Terrell Vinson scored following another steal, then nailed a 3-pointer the next time downcourt to make it 41-34.
St. Bonaventure called a timeout, but it didn’t slow the Minutemen. Williams took the ensuing inbounds and sped the length of the court for a basket. Then Morgan scored on a stop-and-pop, and UMass was up by 11 and rolling.
“It was a nice home win,’’ said coach Derek Kellogg. “Those two runs, I thought, won us the game.’’
Two runs? Well, yes, the Minutemen needed a second spurt thanks in large part to a large person named Andrew Nicholson. The St. Bonaventure center ended the UMass run with a monster dunk, and over the next five minutes he scored three more baskets inside, overpowering and outmaneuvering anyone Kellogg persuaded to stand in his way. He finished with 24 points and nine rebounds.
“Nicholson was pretty much unstoppable,’’ said the UMass coach.
But so was Morgan, who still had a few more 3-pointers in him, including three of them during a two-minute stretch after the Bonnies had closed within 5 points.
By the time the sophomore guard had finished his work from beyond the arc, where he was 6 of 7 on the night, the UMass lead was well on its way to cresting at 18.
“The team did a good job of finding me,’’ said Morgan. “I just tried to do the best I could to hit my shots.’’
His coach appreciated that.
“It was a big-time game for him,’’ said Kellogg. “The first one he took wasn’t a great shot for him, but when that one went in, he continued to go for it. And his shots were falling.’’
That’s what you call the comforts of home.