JERREY ROBERTS Raphiael Putney, of the University of Massachusetts, dunks against La Salle Wednesday at the Mullins Center.
AMHERST — After a week that saw the University of Massachusetts lose two games, its top 25 ranking and one of its most important players, the Minutemen badly needed not only a win, but a good performance.
UMass dominated almost from the outset and was never really threatened in the second half as it beat La Salle, 79-67, Wednesday at the Mullins Center.
“That was a much-needed win to get us back on the right track,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “I thought my guys practiced really well for two days. I was confident we were going to play well coming in.”
Explorer coach John Giannini could tell the Minutemen were going to play well just from watching pregame
“I could see it in warmups. They were focused. They were serious. They were together,” he said. “They had that look and certainly gave that kind of effort. I was very impressed with their approach to this game and the way they started the game.”
Even when the Minutemen made mistakes, their hustle and athleticism seemed to cover them up.
“UMass really frustrated us beating us to a ton of loose balls and rebounds,” Giannini said. “In the first half their intensity and effort were at a very high level that we just didn’t match.”
UMass (18-4, 5-3 Atlantic 10) will try build another winning streak as it goes back on the road for a 4 p.m. Sunday game at Rhode Island.
On Wednesday, Raphiael Putney was a disruptive presence defensively in the first half for UMass. After finishing an alley-oop to open the scoring, he had six first-half rebounds and three blocked shots to help start transition. He finished with eight points, 11 rebounds and a career-high five blocked shots.
“I thought he played a very, very good game and did the things we’ve been talking about,” Kellogg said. “He only took one bad shot tonight. If we’re going to be good, he’s got to get 11 or 12 rebounds, three or four altered shots and two or three blocks.”
In last week’s two losses, UMass struggled in the first half, but they controlled the game almost wire to wire.
UMass led by 16 at halftime Wednesday, but didn’t sit on the lead. Sampson Carter (11 points, five rebounds) attacked the basket on the first possession and drew La Salle big man Steve Zack’s third foul. Carter made both free throws to make it 45-27. After Tyreek Duren missed a layup at the other end, the Minutemen attacked and Gordon hit a driving layup to push UMass’ edge to 47-27, 49 seconds into the half.
The lead hovered around 20 for most of the half. La Salle cut the lead late when the Minutemen were comfortably ahead, but never really threatened.
Kellogg talked going into the game about playing at least one of his freshmen more minutes to make up for the loss of Maxie Esho, who was out with concussion symptoms. He played Demetrius Dyson (three points) eight minutes, but only when Trey Davis got into foul trouble. Instead, he mostly went with seven players as his regulars were clicking and Kellogg didn’t want to mess with the rhythm.
“I was trying to figure out when to get (Dyson) in, but the guys were playing so well,” Kellogg said.
Chaz Williams led UMass with 17 points and eight assists. Gordon scored 12 points and had six assists, while Cady Lalanne added 13 points and six rebounds. Jerrell Wright led La Salle with 16 points and seven rebounds.
In the locker room after the game, Williams challenged his teammates to maintain the effort and level of play going forward.
“I just told the guys ‘let’s get ready for practice and keep the same intensity,’” Williams said.
Kellogg thought the win could be a spring board.
“It was time to reset the deck. They were ready. I was ready and we all brought energy the past couple of days,” he said. “Now I think we’re ready for this last push. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to push like crazy.”