JERREY ROBERTS Trey Davis, left, of the University of Massachusetts, drives to the basket against Nortern Illinois defenders Travon Baker, second from left, and Jordan Threloff Saturday at the Mullins Center. Tyler Bergantino, right, looks on.
AMHERST — It won’t go down as one of the University of Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s sharper efforts, but it didn’t need to be for a win Saturday against perhaps the worst team on this season’s schedule.
The No. 22-ranked Minutemen (9-0) were more talented and more athletic than Northern Illinois and they coasted to an 80-54 win at the Mullins Center.
“We could have played a little better in spurts,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “We played a little careless with the ball and our defense came and went. Our press wasn’t where it needed to be.
“But all in all our guys won the game, took care of business and we move on to the next game,” he added.
A year ago against some of the lesser teams on their schedule, the Minutemen rarely pulled away for easy wins. Siena, Miami (Ohio) and Northern Illinois all finished among the worst teams in all of college basketball. But they all were within a few points of UMass in the game’s waning moments before the Minutemen escaped.
That wasn’t the case Saturday. Despite some sloppy moments against still-struggling Northern Illinois, the game was never really in doubt. The Huskies scored the first two points of the game on a dunk by Darrell Bowie, but UMass scored the next 11 including nine on three 3-pointers by Raphiael Putney (13 points).
After that the margin yo-yoed between eight and 14 for the rest of the half. Turnovers and some missed easy shots kept the Minutemen from widening the gap, but the Huskies were not good enough to capitalize and never really got within striking distance as UMass led 40-28 at the break.
The Minutemen did not score a field goal in the second half until Trey Davis made a long 3-pointer with 13 minutes, 33 seconds left in the game. But UMass made enough free throws and defensive stops to extend its lead to 50-35.
Maxie Esho (12 points, seven rebounds) gave the crowd of 4,694 a highlight and Kellogg something to be frustrated about on the next play. On a fast break Chaz Williams threw a behind-the-head pass to Putney on the left wing. In one motion Putney caught the pass and threw a lob toward the basket as Esho leaped in the lane. He slammed home the alley-oop to put the Minutemen up 52-35, but he hung on the rim and slapped the backboard to earn a technical foul.
But Northern Illinois was unable to seize any momentum. The Huskies scored the next three points before UMass resumed the rout. The margin reached 20 on a Sampson Carter layup with 10:22 left and stayed above that for most of the last 10 minutes, allowing Kellogg to give extended minutes to freshmen Demetrius Dyson, Seth Berger and Clyde Santee.
Santee, who had not scored before Saturday, took advantage with 13 points in the final six minutes on 5-of-6 shooting, including two 3-pointers.
Cady Lalanne led UMass with 17 points, five rebounds and two blocked shots. Williams added 12 points and seven assists, while turning the ball over four times.
Dontel Highsmith led Northern Illinois (3-5) with 10 points.
UMass continues its stretch of games against Mid-American Conference opponents when it travels to Ohio at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
“We’re happy to be 9-0, but we’re looking forward to improving our record and getting better as a team,” Lalanne said.