Two things come to mind after yesterday's 80-76 UMass victory over Fordham to open the A-10 season, the first is that having attended the game live and in person in the Bill I can confirm that it has been far too long since I was on campus, and second -- never before has a game that felt like a blowout left me feeling so nervous in the final two minutes.
This was about as good a t-e-a-m team victory that I've seen in recent memory. The Minutemen had 5 guys in double digit scoring, they were carried at times by Freddie Riley, Jesse Morgan, Terrell Vinson for spurts and for most of the game by Chaz Williams who once again provided cardiac moments in the waning seconds of the game, only to send everyone into a frenzy moments later. There were still some concerning moments in this game, the team still allows too many offensive rebounds, their shooting was pretty lousy at times, and our free throw shooting is horrendous -- but the team only really fell behind once by any significant amount of points, and controlled the pace for much of the game. Player of the Game:
Terrell Vinson. It'd be easy to give POTG honors to Chaz Williams who was once again very impressive with 20 points, 8 assists (to three turnovers) and 7 rebounds. However, Chaz also led the team in almost giving me a heart attack when with a one point lead and 13 seconds left in the game, Chaz bricked two free throws. Of course Chaz redeemed himself with a huge rebound off the second missed FT, got fouled and proceeded to drill two freebies with 11 seconds to go. That being said I'm giving POTG honors this week to Terrell Vinson who went for 14 points and 14 rebounds. During a stretch of the game when UMass was sputtering it was TV who put the team on his back and he carried them through the difficult period. Even more important than his work on the offensive end, TV played pretty good defense against Chris Gaston who is a great player for Fordham and even though Gaston went for 16 points and 18 rebounds, there was still enough work done by TV to help this team pick up a big victory.The Good:
Depth. With Sampson Carter and now Cady Lalanne on the sidelines, the Minutemen played 8 guys 12 minutes or more, with only two players (Vinson and Williams) playing more than 30. UMass got 14 from Vinson, 10 from Raphiael Putney (including the most bad ass one handed dunk from outside the paint that I've ever seen), 20 from Chaz, 12 from Morgan and 13 from Riley. The only player who didn't register on the offensive end was Maxie Esho, who had 1 steal and 2 rebounds in 12 minutes. I think Maxie was a bit over matched against Gaston and Kervin Bristol, and that showed on the stat line. For good measure Javorn Farrell scored 7 points on 3 of 6 shooting, and could have had more but utterly bricked a fast break layup for a disappointing exchange. If this team can get this type of contribution from top to bottom they're going to be very tough to beat, it's obvious that depth is a strength for this club and it's nice to see that at play in this game.The Bad:
First Half Shooting. Yuck. UMass shot 31% from the floor in the first half, including 21.4% from beyond the arc and managed to score only 33 points. Luckily in this game they were able to play some good defense, and create some turnovers (17 in total) to hold Fordham to 32 points and take a lead into the half. The team came back around in the second half shooting 43.8% from the floor and 41.7% from three, but the teams shooting woes is cause for concern moving forward. It's amazing to me but I've said it before and I say it again -- this team shoots worse the closer to the basket they get. The offense missed a lot of bunnies, and when they hit their stride of running the floor after turnovers they tend to get ahead of themselves and miss some easy layups - they also get focused on the alley oop and sometimes those passes get away from people. The shooting needs to get better is all I'm saying.The Ugly:
They're called FREE throws. The team went 14-24 in the second half from the charity stripe. Chaz Williams for the game was 5-10, including some HUGE misses. The lack of timely free throw shooting is going to cost this team a game sooner or later. I understand getting the ball into Chaz Williams' hands at the end of the game so you don't run the risk of turning the ball over, but Jesse Morgan is BY FAR the best free throw shooter on this team, and the inbounds plays at the end of the game should be running through him so that you're getting him to the line. Least of the Game:
Maxie Esho. I heart Maxie, there is no question in my mind that some day he'll be my favorite player on the team, but the kid was over matched in this game. Much like Javorn Farrell against CCSU, sometimes a player just has a mental off night, and I'm sure with the Cady injury Maxie was in his own head all day long and it just wasn't his night. He'll be fine, and I don't expect for this to happen more often.Closing Thoughts:
The A-10 is going to be super competitive this season, and my prediction at the half way point was for UMass to go 8-8 or 9-7, they're off to a good start with a win over a very improved Fordham team. With another streaking team on the horizon (LaSalle) I'm looking for the team to continue to find contribution from everyone, tighten up on defense, work on the free throw shooting and come out firing on all cylinders on Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia.Up Next:
The Minutemen make their first of six hundred and fifteen trips to the city of Brotherly Love when they visit La Salle on Sunday at 2:00 PM. Rumor has it that this game will be on CSNNE so check your local provider for details.