Massachusetts' Raphiael Putney dunks the ball over New Mexico's Alex Kirk in the second half at the Charleston Classic NCAA college basketball tournament in Charleston, S.C., Friday, Nov. 22, 2013. Massachusetts defeated New Mexico 81-65. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
CHARLESTON, S.C. — With 7 minutes, 15 seconds on the clock and the University of Massachusetts clinging to a two-point lead over No. 19 New Mexico, freshman Demetrius Dyson, who had yet to play a second in the game, looked to guard Chaz Williams during a timeout.
“I told him to go out there and smack the floor,” Dyson said. “I told him, ‘Everyone has fire in their eyes, we’re ready to play. Just go out there and smack the floor, it’s going to make a big difference in the game.’”
Williams obliged, as did Maxie Esho, and the Minutemen scored the next 14 points on their way to an 81-65 upset win over the Lobos in the semifinals of the Charleston Classic Friday, advancing to play either Davidson or Clemson in the final at 9 p.m. Sunday on ESPN2.
Raphiael Putney, who finished with 18 points, scored nine in a 20-4 UMass run that closed the game. Chaz Williams finished with a team-high 19 points.
UMass (5-0) never trailed in the second half despite the Herculean efforts of New Mexico 7-footer Alex Kirk, who racked up a game-high 32 points and 11 rebounds in the loss.
Ultimately, fatigue played a factor for Kirk and the rest of Lobos, who took the court against the Minutemen less than 24 hours after a double-overtime victory over Alabama-Birmingham. Kirk played 44 minutes in that game and 39 against the Minutemen.
“They had three guys play 44 minutes or above — that’s unheard of in college basketball.” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “I was hoping that their legs would give out a little bit there in the second half, and I think they tired a little bit.”
Kellogg was quick to give his own team, and especially Williams, plenty of credit for delivering the finishing blows.
“Chaz really took the game over in that stretch,” Kellogg said. “He controlled the basketball, got guys shots and they made them.”
The win was UMass’ first over a ranked team since defeating No. 21 Temple in the 2012 Atlantic 10 tournament, but Kellogg wasn’t worried about any potential letdown.
“I think the guys have handled it pretty well,” Kellogg said. “They’re playing well because they’re not thinking they’re good ... they’re thinking that they have something to prove, and that’s the mindset we have to keep.”
One player who entered the season with plenty to prove was Cady Lalanne, who had shown flashes of what he could become in two seasons in Amherst, but had yet to deliver consistently. That has changed over the first five games of this season, as Lalanne recorded his third double-double of the season Friday, notching 16 points and 14 rebounds, 10 of which came on the offensive end.
“On all of those, the big man is going to try to go help every time Chaz drives or one of our guards,” Lalanne said. “As soon as they get out of position I just went and tried to crash the boards as hard as I can.”
The battle between Lalanne and Kirk made for great theater, and Lalanne wasn’t shy about praising the Lobos center, who was 4 for 7 from 3-point range to go with his play in the paint.
“That’s probably the biggest big man I’ve ever played against,” Lalanne said. “From the get-go, as soon as he came down and we got body-to-body, you could feel his weight and his size.”
Kirk also blocked five shots for New Mexico, which tallied 12 rejections in the game. UMass didn’t back down, though, outscoring the Lobos 46-26 in the paint.
“In practice, with (Lalanne) down there and Putney down there and (Esho), it’s just blocked shots all day,” Williams said. “I was telling these guys tonight — They’re challenging you, they’re challenging you, just go finish strong like usual.”
UMass also forced the Lobos into a season-high 18 turnovers, including seven from point guard Kendall Williams and six from Cullen Neal.
“I didn’t necessarily know it was going to lead to turnovers, but I thought we could get them playing faster,” Kellogg said. “And in our estimation, our one advantage would be if the game got moving a little bit, because of their size and physicality in the post.”
It all added up to one of, if not the, biggest win of the Kellogg era for UMass.
“This was a legit team on a neutral-site court in a tournament, which I think is big for our team and program,” Kellogg said. “It really shows that these guys are locked in and have matured over the years.”