Chaz Williams

UMass bounces back with a 90-52 Atlantic 10 win over Fordham (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

UMass, the No. 13 team in the nation, saw its late-game magic run out in a loss, on the road, against Richmond on Wednesday night. The Minutemen used come-from-behind wins against St. Joesph’s, St. Bonaventure and George Mason in three of the four games leading up to its matchup with the Spiders.

And on Sunday afternoon at home, UMass appeared to be off to another slow start with Fordham racing out to a 7-0 start, while the UMass offense shot 0-for-4 from the field with four early turnovers. However, UMass quickly regrouped. The Minutemen set the tempo, and used its height advantage to control the glass (43-31) to get back in the win column with a 90-52 victory over the Rams.

After allowing the first seven points of the day, the Minutemen went on a 24-5 run, which doubled up Fordham’s score. UMass entered the break with a 40-24 lead. Maxie Esho energized UMass when he came off the bench to score the first four points of the game — the first off an offensive rebound, followed by a dunk in transition.

From there Chaz Williams ran the show, scoring 14 of his 18 in the first, including four 3-pointers while dishing out eight assists on the afternoon, a brief afternoon at that. All 11 UMass players scored including Raphiael Putney with 13 with Trey Davis and Esho scoring 13 and 10, respectively, off the bench.

UMass refused to take its foot off the gas to start the second half, going on a 17-0 run in the first four-plus minutes to stretch its lead from 16 to 33.

Jon Severe began the game with an open 3-pointer. Other than a transition dunk, that was the only good look he got in the first half. UMass swarmed him, and the entire Rams offense, allowing a 32 percent shooting on the afternoon. The Rams was limited to 6-of-27 from beyond the arc (four of which came with Fordham down 30-plus). Severe ended 2-of-14 for seven points. Chris Whithead had 13 points, followed by Branden Frazier with a dozen.

UMass head coach Derek Kellogg opened up his rotation on Sunday afternoon with Clyde Santee, Seth Berger and Demetrius Dyson all seeing action in the first half along with regular reserves Esho, Davis and Tyler Bergantino. The expanded rotation is an effort to reduce the mileage on UMass’ core contributors as well as a way to develop some younger talent.

The Minutemen have been in some fights this season in conference so far, and they’ll need their starters and bench guys at full strength as the Atlantic 10 season progresses with VCU and Saint Louis still needing to make the trek up to Amherst while UMass also has a date with George Washington in the Nation’s Capitol for a good road test.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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.