Derek Kellogg

UMass opens season with important win while Boston College looks for key non-conference victory

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BOSTON – In the middle game of Sunday’s Coaches vs. Cancer tripleheader, UMass kicked off its season with a quality non-conference win over Boston College, using a second half surge to propel the Minutemen to an 86-73 victory inside the TD Garden.

“We all knew that this game hurt us or help us down the line when it came tournament time,” UMass senior Sampson Carter said.

Carter scored nine of his 12 points in the second half with the bulk of his buckets coming at crucial portion of the game for UMass. Boston College took a 45-36 lead in the opening minutes of the second half. Carter, who had missed a layup with under 30 seconds to play before halftime, scored seven straight UMass points that cut the lead to 45-41.

“It gave us a huge boost,” UMass senior guard Chaz Williams said. “He sparked the run and we all kind of finished it.”

Williams drilled a three with 13:19 left to play, which capped off a 14-3 run, that gave UMass a 50-48 lead.

Boston College came down to tie the score following a timeout, but after that UMass took command, opening the game up with a lead that got as large as 16. With the smaller BC lineup, the Minutemen dominated on the inside behind the 27-point, 12-rebound game by Cady Lalanne and demolished the Eagles on the glass with a 44-27 advantage and had more offensive rebounds (21) than BC had defensive boards (18).

“I just thought in the second half that they would make the game very simple,” Boston College head coach Steve Donahue said. “They were going to drive the ball, throw it up there, go get it and put it in the basket. They deserve all the credit.”

In Friday night’s overtime loss to Providence, Boston College was beaten on the glass 36-20.

“That’s the way you beat us,” Donahue added. “Both these halves, the second half in particular both teams [Providence and UMass] came out and said, ‘I don’t think they are tough enough to handle us on the glass.’ And that’s what they did.”

Boston College gave itself a tough out-of-conference schedule out of the gate and through two games have come up empty-handed against an up-and-coming Providence program and UMass, a team that should contend in the Atlantic 10. The non-conference slate continues to be tough for BC with games against UConn, Harvard, VCU, and potentially a game against Indiana. None of those games are at home by the way.

“The scheduling is what it is,” Donahue said. “We want to be as good as we can to be, we have to play the schedule and get better. We are going to learn from this. I have great confidence in this team.”

Due to its lineup, which starts Anderson at the five, the Eagles will not only have to tougher on the glass, but also better offensively. The offense has been dominated by Anderson and Olivier Hanlon, who both scored more than 20 on Friday and the only two in double figures on Sunday. Hanlon was hit with foul trouble in the first half and finally got in-sync late in the game though at that point the Eagles were trailing by double digits.

UMass also has a challenging non-conference schedule, and a win against the Eagles is a good start for sixth year head coach Derek Kellogg, who is looking to get his alma mater into the NCAA tournament for the first time in his tenure. Like BC did entering Sunday’s game, UMass will experience a quick turnaround, with its home opener on Tuesday morning at 11 a.m.

“We now have a tight turnaround from a team from Baton Rouge, Louisiana with LSU coming in,” Kellogg said.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.