AMHERST — It was far from the finished product, but it was a start.
Behind 20 points from Sampson Carter, the University of Massachusetts defeated American International 89-76 in its final tuneup before the season opener.
“I thought there were some things we obviously keep learning about ourselves,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said.
Carter was 7 of 10 from the field, chipping in five free throws and playing an important role in the offense down the stretch. He also added seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals.
“I thought all in all, Sampson played a really good game tonight,” Kellogg said. “Maybe he’s a guy we can go through in that mid-post.”
UMass found success in the middle of AIC’s zone, especially in the second half. With Chaz Williams and Cady Lalanne on the bench, the Minutemen flashed Carter often in the paint and found success running the offense through him.
“I just told myself before the game I wasn’t going to focus on offense,” Carter said. “I was going to focus on defense and rebounding and everything to bring energy.”
Fans got their first glimpse of sophomore transfer Derrick Gordon, who added 15 points and six assists in 31 minutes. Gordon went to the line six times and showed skill getting to the rim.
“I’m a slasher, so I felt that I could get to the rim at any time,” Gordon said. “Once the big man stepped up, I got a lot of assists from Cady (Lalanne) just dropping them off and things like that. My goal is to get my teammates involved as much as I could.”
It was Gordon’s first game action in over a year. He had to miss last season because of NCAA transfer rules.
“I just used this game to get the jitters out. We got a huge game coming up Sunday,” he said. “That was really to mentally prepare myself for that. I felt I could’ve done a lot better.”
Williams and Raphiael Putney got into foul trouble, with Williams having to miss time in the second half with four fouls. He finished with seven points, five assists and five rebounds while turning the ball over four times.
“I told these guys after the game, mainly Chaz, ‘It’s time to step on the gas now. If you go play at that level, we’re not going to be where we need to be. You’re a potential player of the year guy in the league, so play that way,’” Kellogg said. “He gets it. I think he’s ready for Sunday and the rest of the year.”
The teams played under the new NCAA rule changes for the first time. The rules, designed to reduce defensive contact with hands and also clarify blocks and charges around the basket, opened up spacing on the court. As a result, both teams featured zone defensives. The Minutemen opened the game with a 2-2-1 full-court press and also showed a 3-2 zone in the half court with Putney at the top.
UMass led by as much as 20 in the second half, 77-57 with 3:58 remaining. But with a younger lineup of freshmen Demetrius Dyson, Seth Berger and Clyde Santee, the lead dwindled and Kellogg was forced to put his starters back in to hang on to the lead.
“It was a big message,” he said. “I was mad, angry to a certain extent that these guys can’t finish out the game. But I’ll give them something, we haven’t played that lineup in practice and (AIC) was pressing.”
The Minutemen open against Boston College at 3 p.m. Sunday in the Coaches vs. Cancer Boston Tip-Off.
“I feel OK. I don’t feel great, I don’t feel terrible,” Kellogg said. “It’s kind of what I expected to a certain extent. Now we’re going to get ready, we’ve got to clamp down and really get ready.”