Chaz Williams (AP photo)

UMass begins its season with wins over ACC and SEC programs

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AMHERST, Mass. – The UMass Minutemen have now kicked off its 2013-2014 season with a win over an ACC program and an SEC program.

The latest win came in the home opener in an exciting Tuesday morning game, as UMass survived LSU with a 92-90 win as part of the Tip-Off Marathon.

Cady Lalanne, who had 27 points and 12 rebounds in Sunday’s win over Boston College, came up big in the second half with 16 points and six rebounds, all in the second half. Lalanne only logged four minutes in the first half after being hit with two of the first half’s 34 fouls.

“I just told him to keep his head,” UMass senior forward Raphiael Putney said. “Kept telling him, ‘You’re one of the best big men in the Atlantic 10,’ he just came out with a vengeance. He came out and did what he had to do.”

In the second half, Lalanne had twice gave UMass a boost during a run. He had the final two buckets in a 13-2 UMass run that gave the Minutemen a 60-47 lead to start the second half. He then had two more buckets, after Johnny O’Bryant picked up his fourth foul with 13 minutes to play, that extended the lead to double digits once again.

“The first minutes of the second half he was tremendous, so we needed him to come back and battle with O’Bryant,” Putney said. “That’s what he did and he did a good job of it.”

Lalanne fouled out with 2:15 to play, and LSU made a run at a late-game comeback, cutting the lead to 88-85 with under 30 to play. However, UMass made the free throws down the stretch to secure the win.

LSU had struggles of its own on the frontline. O’Bryant landed his third foul late in the first half, and his fourth with 13 minutes to play before returning to the game eight minutes later. What was the more glaring issue occurred moments after the tip. Martin went to the bench with an ankle injury after a minute of action, having his only shot blocked by Raphiael Putney to begin the game.

Through two games, Chaz Williams is averaging 22.0 points and 6.0 assists per game. His play is expected given that he enters his senior season with big expectations, as not only one of the best players in the Atlantic 10, but one of the best point guards in the country.

The rest of UMass looks sharp. Sampson Carter looks a lot more comfortable this season, as opposed to last season when he was coming back from a hip injury. Tyler Bergantino and Maxie Esho have excelled in their roles off the bench while Derrick Gordon is still getting back into game form after sitting out last season due to transfer.

But Lalanne’s play to begin the season has been a huge bonus for the Minutemen becasue it gives UMass a strong inside presence to along with its talented back court. Yes, Lalanne put up big numbers against a smaller BC frontline and yes Martin played less than a minute for LSU on Tuesday, but these aren’t fluke games, according to his teammates.

“That’s Cady Lalanne being Cady Lalanne,” Williams said. “We practice with him, and all them days that’s Cady being Cady and the world hasn’t seen that. You know, us teammates, we tell him, ‘Go out and dominate every game and make the world realize that you are potentially one of the best big men in the country.’ And that’s what he’s trying to do.”

UMass has a tough non-conference schedule with games against Providence, and BYU still remaining. Starting off the season with two quality out-of-conference wins in a 48 hour span is a great start for sixth year head coach Derek Kellogg, who has a favorable conference schedule with home games against VCU, Saint Louis and La Salle.

Knee injury sidelines Illinois forward Leron Black

Josh Hart, Leron Black
Associated Press
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Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.

Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.

Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).

In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.

Coach Hamilton likes mix on Florida State basketball roster

ACC Basketball Tournament: Florida State v North Carolina
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State is the only team in the Atlantic Coast Conference that returns all five of its starters from last season.

For most teams that would be cause for celebration. For coach Leonard Hamilton it means he is hoping the struggles of the past two seasons have been valuable experience.

The Seminoles had their first practice on Wednesday as they are looking to bounce back from a season in which they went 17-16 and didn’t play in a postseason tournament for the first time in 10 years.

“We have five starters returning from a team that won 17 games. We have guys that have been around, who know their shortcomings and can pass on their wisdom to the younger players,” Hamilton said.

With an experienced roster and a highly regarded recruiting class, Hamilton is hoping to lead the Seminoles back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012, which is also the year they won the ACC Tournament.

Jarquez Smith, the leading returning scorer from last season, said the open gyms before the start of practice have been extremely competitive as the incoming recruiting class has tried to assert itself early.

“We’ve been going at each other’s neck and it has gotten very competitive,” Smith said. “Everyone is fighting for their position because the guys coming off the bench are just as athletic as who is on the court.”

The newcomers feature Dwayne Bacon (a McDonald’s All-American selection), Terance Mann (the Gatorade Player of the Year in New Hampshire) and Malik Beasley (the Georgia 1A Player of the Year). There’s also Chris Koumadje, who at 7-foot-4 will be the tallest player in school history, and Benji Bell, who helped lead Northwest Florida State to the JUCO National Title.

“This is a very confident and focused group of inexperienced players,” Hamilton said. “They want to make something special happen but aren’t taking anything for granted.”

Two things that Hamilton will look to work on during preseason practices is defense and figuring out his rotation. The Seminoles suffered from a lack of depth last season but this year he could have a roster that goes 10 deep and allows him to go to more of a full-court pressing style of defense.

Xavier Rahan-Mayes led the team in scoring last season, averaging 14.9 points en route to becoming the first freshman in ACC history to score 30 or more points three times. The one thing he said he noticed in preseason practices were that everyone played off each other’s strengths.

Florida State’s first exhibition game is Nov. 2 against Lynn University before opening the season on Nov. 15 against Nicholls State.

“I think we have a pretty good combination of experience and an influx of new players. Any time you have that type of scenario you appreciate it,” Hamilton said. “It looks like we have it moving in the right direction. We’ve had a good offseason and regrouped.”