UMass hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 1998, but through five games Derek Kellogg’s Minutemen have the appearance of a group that can end that drought. Friday afternoon UMass added another solid victory to its resume, soundly beating No. 19 New Mexico 81-65 in the semifinals of the Charleston Classic. After struggling from the field in the first half and leading by just five at the break UMass took better shots while controlling the flow of the game, shooting 56.3% in the game’s final 20 minutes.
Chaz Williams led four Minutemen in double figures with 19 points and big man Cady Lalanne posted another double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds. While Alex Kirk was highly productive for the Lobos, finishing with 32 points and 11 rebounds, but outside of Kendall Williams (13 points) no other New Mexico player scored in double figures.
UMass was able to make New Mexico uncomfortable offensively, resulting in 18 turnovers that led to 21 points on the other end. Add in a 46-26 advantage in points in the paint and an offensive rebounding percentage approaching 46%, and it isn’t difficult to see why UMass was able to put the game away in the second half.
With either Clemson or Davidson next, Kellogg’s Minutemen will likely be favored to win the title game on Sunday. And with that could come the program’s first appearance in the Top 25 since November 1998. With Williams running the show and talented options in fellow guard Derrick Gordon (11 points), forwards Raphiael Putney (18) and Sampson Carter and Lalanne in the middle, UMass has the talent needed to contend in the Atlantic 10.
With games against BYU and Florida State remaining on the non-conference schedule, they’ll have the opportunity to add more quality non-conference wins to their resume before the start of Atlantic 10 play. Before the season began the question asked was why should UMass be regarded as a threat to preseason favorite VCU and reigning champions Saint Louis. After this latest result, it’s more appropriate to ask why can’t the Minutemen contend for the A-10 crown.