JERREY ROBERTS Raphiael Putney, right, of the University of Massachusetts, reaches for the tip-off against Steve Zack, of La Salle, Wednesday at the Mullins Center.
AMHERST — If there was a positive the University of Massachusetts could take from Saturday’s loss to Saint Joseph’s, it was Derrick Gordon breaking out of his recent slump.
He followed up his 21 points against the Hawks with 12 points, six assists and a strong defensive game in Wednesday’s 79-67 win over La Salle at the Mullins Center.
“Right now my confidence is high. My coaches and my teammates have a lot of confidence in me. I’m not going to try to do anything crazy. I’m going to stay in the gym and keep doing what I’m doing, creating for myself and others,” Gordon said smiling. “It feels good. My teammates have been with me through the ups and downs. The past two games it feels like a lot of weight’s been lifted off my shoulders. I’m going to continue to build off of that.”
UMass coach Derek Kellogg said Gordon can give the Minutemen another gear.
“That was about as good as he’s played defensively in a while. He was tipping balls and making good, hard-nosed plays,” Kellogg said. “He had a drought there where he didn’t make as many as he usually does, but now he’s back. It’s good to see him playing well. He should be the best defensive guard in the league when he’s playing well.”
Without prompting, senior guard Chaz Williams added to Kellogg’s thought.
“I’m impressed with the three steals and the two blocks. We needed those,” Williams said. “The team felt the energy off of those plays.”
CROWD — Despite snow and no band, the game drew 4,345 fans, including extra students. UMass released additional tickets for students to counteract the projected loss of ticket buyers because of the weather.
The crowd helped UMass (18-4, 5-3 Atlantic 10) improve to 9-0 at Mullins this season, 10-0 in western Massachusetts and 11-0 in the state.
“The crowd was very helpful,” Kellogg said. “It was bigger than the crowds early in my career. Not being on the road was very nice. It felt like we were in planes, trains and automobiles the last couple days. It was kind of a rough stretch.”
NEXT UP — The Minutemen head back on the road Sunday for a 4 p.m. game at Rhode Island. The Rams (11-11, 2-5) play Thursday night at Virginia Commonwealth. URI is 8-3 at home and had Kellogg’s attention.
“I watched them play Dayton and beat them handily (88-76, Jan. 25). I saw them play Saint Louis to a stalemate before losing by one (59-58 Jan. 7). I saw them lose to Providence by one (50-49 Dec. 5) earlier in the year,” Kellogg said.
ATLANTIC 10 — The win moved the Minutemen into a three-way tie for fourth place with Saint Joseph’s and Richmond. The top three teams are Saint Louis (8-0), VCU (6-1) and George Washington (6-2).
MISCELLANEOUS — The victory was UMass’ 11th against a team ranked in the top 100 of the ratings percentage index.
Trey Davis has made 11 of his last 17 3-point attempts (64.7 percent). He reached double figures in the first half for the first time in his career and finished with 13 points. He’s made a 3-pointer in 14 straight games.
UMass reached 40 points in the first half for the fourth time this season.
Former Minuteman coach Steve Lappas was the game’s color analyst on CBS Sports Network. It was his first time broadcasting a game in the Mullins Center.
Cady Lalanne’s first rebound of the game gave him 500 in his career.
Williams was held without a free throw attempt for the first time all season and the first time since last year’s NIT loss to Stony Brook when an injury held the point guard to 16 minutes. Williams needs 13 points to become the 10th player in UMass history to score 1,500.