Fordham's Chris Whitehead, left, dribble around Massachusetts' Maxie Esho, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
AMHERST — There were no anxious moments late, no huge comeback required for the University of Massachusetts men’s basketball team to get back on the winning track.
In front of a sold out crowd at the Mullins Center, the No. 13-ranked Minutemen delivered their best performance in weeks and bulldozed Fordham, 90-52, Sunday.
In recent wins, the Minutemen have played their best when they’ve had to come from behind. So when Fordham opened the game on a 7-0 run, it only seemed to spark them. UMass scored the next eight points and 20 of the next 22 and never looked back.
“Other than the start that was a nice complete game for us,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “Our guys paid attention to detail, they locked in defensively and it was nice to see the ball go in the basket.”
Chaz Williams, who played against his former coach Tom Pecora when he as a freshman at Hofstra, led UMass with 18 points and eight assists in just 27 minutes. Williams and the rest of the Minutemen starters watched most of the second half from the bench with the game well in hand.
“Coming off a loss last game, we wanted to come out and feel like we got our swagger back,” Williams said. “We felt like we weren’t playing UMass basketball. Those games we were playing close, we weren’t playing to our full potential. We’re just trying to get there.”
The Minutemen held of Fordham’s high-scoring guards well under their season averages. Freshman Jon Severe entered the game leading the Atlantic 10 in scoring at 20.9 points per game, but UMass held him to a career-low seven points on 2-for-14 shooting. Branden Frazier, the conference’s No. 3 scorer at 18.1 points per game, had 12 points and turned the ball over five times.
Severe’s lone highlight came when he stripped Maxie Esho and raced in for an uncontested dunk with 50 seconds left in the first half. But he didn’t get back quickly enough to defend and Williams made him pay, attacking at the other end for a floater that put UMass up 39-24, six seconds later.
The play started a 20-0 Minuteman run that carried over into the second half. Fordham (8-11, 1-5 A-10) didn’t score again until 5:03 into the second half and by then UMass had put the game out of reach at 57-27.
The final 38-point margin was the most the Minutemen led in any game this season. Neither team scored in the final 2:39.
UMass (17-2, 4-1 Atlantic 10) is back on the road for the next two games beginning Wednesday at 7 p.m. at St. Bonaventure.
“UMass is obviously a very good basketball team, worthy of being ranked No. 12 (by USA Today) in the country,” Pecora said. “We knew this could happen if we didn’t come in and execute our game plan. We weren’t able to get the ball to the rim. Blocked shots and missed shots are basically turnovers against them because they do such a good job getting into transition.”
All 11 Minutemen who dressed for the game scored. In addition to Williams, Raphiael Putney (13 points), Trey Davis (13 points, nine assists) and Esho (10 points, six rebounds) were all in double figures. Kellogg gave each of his freshmen a couple of minutes early and lots of minutes late. Demetrius Dyson (four points) and Seth Berger (four points) each scored their first collegiate points. Dyson’s came on 3-pointer, while Berger, whose parents were visiting from Seattle, scored on a putback and later finished an alley-oop from Davis.
Kellogg gave Davis the task of leading the freshmen.
“I was just trying to get them all involved,” Davis said. “I was in their place last year, so I know they were all a little nervous. I was just talking to them and trying to get them involved.”