Chaz Williams had one of his least productive statistical days as a member of the Massachusetts men's basketball team, but it didn't matter.
Derrick Gordon (above) led UMass with 22 points in its 96-90 win over Nebraska on Thursday in the Charleston Classic. (Photo courtesy Evan Sahagian, Massachusetts Daily Collegian)
The all-conference point guard scored just 10 points and dished out only three assists as he was hampered by foul trouble, but his teammates picked up the slack as the Minutemen prevailed late to come away with a 96-90 victory over Nebraska in the quarterfinals of the Charleston Classic at TD Arena on Thursday.
Some takeaways as UMass moved to 4-0 and what to watch for Friday, when the Minutemen face No. 19 New Mexico in the semifinals of the tournament:
Gordon finally broke out: After three games of making an impact by doing pretty much everything else besides scoring, Derrick Gordon finally provided a scoring lift for the Minutemen on Thursday. And it was much-needed as Williams played just 25 minutes due to his foul trouble. The sophomore guard scored a team-high 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting in 37 minutes.
Scoring was balanced: UMass needed just about every point it got against a Cornhuskers team that refused to go away all afternoon. After Gordon and Williams, four more Minutemen finished in double-digit scoring. Sampson Carter finished with 16, Cady Lalanne 15, Raphiael Putney 12 and Maxie Esho had 13 off the bench, finishing a complete team effort.
Second-half surge: Last year especially, the Minutemen were known as a team that often played slow and uninspired basketball right after halftime. Opponents consistently went on scoring runs out of the break to either increase their lead or close a deficit within the matter of minutes.
This year, though, it hasn't been the case. On Thursday, UMass opened the second half on an 18-10 run. And while Terran Petteway (28 points) and Nebraska kept closing in on the lead – within two with 1:39 to go – that strong spurt out of the break proved to give the Minutemen enough of a cushion down the stretch to pull out the win.
What it means: UMass will now draw the 19th-ranked Lobos in the semifinals of the Charleston Classic at 2:30 p.m. Friday. UNM needed two game-tying 3-pointers – the first a running 35-footer from Kendall Williams at the regulation buzzer to send it to overtime, the second from Alex Kirk at the end of the first overtime – to escape with a 97-94 double-overtime victory over UAB on Thursday.
Tired legs and bodies could certainly be a factor in Friday's semifinal contest. The Lobos' quarterfinal game ended a little bit after 6 p.m. Thursday, meaning they have roughly 20 hours to turn around for the Minutemen and their fast-paced game style. UMass only has about 24 hours to get ready for the game itself, but it also didn't have to play an extra 10 minutes of basketball.
Who to watch for: The Lobos returned four starters from last season's NCAA Tournament, so they're certainly an experienced bunch. They're led by senior forward Cameron Bairstow, who comes in averaging 25.5 points and 8 rebounds, junior center Alex Kirk (20 points, 12.5 rebounds) and senior guard Kendall Williams, who's averaging 18.5 points and 8.5 assists per contest.
Where to catch the game: The game will be nationally televised on ESPN starting at 2:30 p.m. and can also be streamed at ESPN3.com. It will also be broadcast on the radio on 105.5 FM WEEI (Springfield), 1440 AM WVEI (Worcester) and 95.9 FM WATD (South Shore). I'm not in Charleston, but you can also follow me on Twitter for commentary @steve_hewitt and check back to the Musket after the game for analysis.
Have a UMass basketball question for Steve Hewitt? Send him a tweet @steve_hewitt or send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and it could appear in an upcoming mailbag.