The Massachusetts men's basketball team clearly didn't need it.
Raphiael Putney's one-handed dunk was the exclamation point of the Minutemen 85-69 win over Youngstown State on Sunday. (Photo courtesy Nicole Evangelista, Massachusetts Daily Collegian)
Leading by 14 points over Youngstown State with less than 30 seconds left Sunday, the game was pretty much over when Clyde Santee lobbed a pass to Raphiael Putney in the backcourt. The senior forward split the Penguins' press, and presumably, he could just seal the win by dribbling the clock out.
Putney split the press, and with open hardwood in front of him, just kept on going. He took four dribbles – picking up steam with each long stride – and launched from the Atlantic 10 logo just inside the free throw line. With Youngstown defender Josh Chojnacki stationed under the basket, Putney rose over him and dunked it ferociously with one hand as Chojnacki went crashing to the floor.
The dunk put an exclamation point on not only an 85-69 victory for the Minutemen, but of another strong performance from Putney, who finished with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting and seven rebounds.
It was the type of effort fans hope to see from Putney. After a breakout sophomore campaign in which he finished as the team's second leading scorer, the forward's numbers dipped during a frustrating junior year. Coming into his senior year, many looked at him as being something of an X-factor, a key to success if the Minutemen were to reach the expectations of finally making the NCAA Tournament.
Through three games, Putney the senior hasn't disappointed. His minutes were limited in the season opener against Boston College, but he was a force in Tuesday's win over LSU, posting 14 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. It was more of the same on Sunday.
Some other takeaways from UMass' win on Sunday, which improved the team's record to 3-0:
Veterans provided balanced scoring effort: Four different players scored in double figures for UMass on Sunday. Chaz Williams and Carter led the Minutemen with 19 points, Putney had 17 and Cady Lalanne finished with 13. Derrick Gordon nearly became the fifth as he scored nine.
Williams said it gives the team confidence knowing the offense isn't just coming from one or two players, but as a collective group.
“It's just knowing that we're all playing together,” Williams said. “Years ago, it would just be one or two guys in double figures and the rest is just in single numbers, but now it's like you're seeing us growing as a group. Cady playing great, Sampson playing great, (Putney) and even the guys that are playing small minutes, they're doing a great job also. It's just everybody just contributing the way coach wants us to.”
UMass continued conscious inside effort: One of the Minutemen's Achilles’ heels in recent years has been the excessive number of 3-pointers they attempt.
Some of it had to do with personnel. With sharpshooters like Freddie Riley and Jesse Morgan eating up a lot of minutes and without a consistent scoring option down low, it was predictable and sometimes realistic for UMass to take a lot of 3-pointers in years past.
But now, those roles have been a bit reversed. UMass doesn't have a consistently good 3-point shooter left with Riley and Morgan gone, and with inside scoring options like Lalanne and Carter better and now fully healthy, UMass has made a conscious effort this season to ditch the long ball and attack the basket. A year after attempting 19 or more 3-pointers in 24 games, the Minutemen have attempted just 38 3-pointers through three games, and every player seems to be either trying to post up Lalanne or Carter down low more often or drive to the hoop themselves.
“I think that's maturity,” Kellogg said. “Putt's not settling for the tough (3-pointers), he's like working through it. We don't have a guy at the 2 spot that can just take bad 3s and get them off. I thought at times (in years past) we'd start a game and just fire the ball.
“So now, we're kind of playing a little bit differently, and it's a testament to the guys. I'm just trying to keep them focused and telling them, 'Hey, this is what we're doing,' and they've followed through on it. It's maturity, really.”
What's next: The Minutemen are off until Thursday, when they play Nebraska in the first game of the Charleston Classic tournament in Charleston, S.C at 12:30 p.m.. The Cornhuskers are 3-0 with wins over Florida Gulf Coast, Western Illinois and South Carolina State.
UMass will then play the winner of New Mexico vs. UAB on Friday, and then play another game Sunday. A full bracket of the tournament can be found here.