AMHERST - When your house is being invaded, you can surrender or you can defend your home turf. Or, as the case may be, home hardwood.
The University of Massachusetts, coming off its only Mullins Center loss of the season and its first-back-to-back defeats overall, took a stand last night in its final taste of home cooking before heading out on a mettle-testing road trip. The Minutemen put the building on lockdown, riding a relentless defense - along with a heating-up-just-in-time shooting touch - to an 80-73 victory over Xavier before a rollicking 6,632.
The catalysts were the UMass guards. Chaz Williams had a career-high 29 points along with 9 assists to lead the Minutemen - on offense, at least. Backcourt mates Jesse Morgan and Freddie Riley contributed clamp-down defense to stifle Tu Holloway, the Atlantic 10’s second-leading scorer, who had a quiet 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting.
“That was a big-time game for us,’’ said UMass coach Derek Kellogg, whose team plays at Dayton Saturday, then at league-leading Temple next Wednesday. “I thought our guys came in and had a big game for us, especially on defense.’’
UMass (19-8, 8-5) signaled there would be no surrender right from the start, defending with postseason-style intensity. Over the game’s first four minutes, Xavier’s key numbers were 2 and 10 - as in, two shots and 10 turnovers. The Musketeers had 3 points, all from the free-throw line.
The UMass offense, however, was doing not a whole lot better. The Minutemen were getting their shots off, but the key word was “off.’’ They hit just 2 of their first 8, including 0 of 4 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Once Xavier (17-10, 8-5) stopped throwing the ball away, it started putting it in the basket, grabbing a 5-point lead just past the midway point of the half. But UMass found the hole as well, especially from beyond the arc. After starting 2 of 10, the Minutemen hit four of their next five 3-pointers. The final one came after Williams idly dribbled away much of the half’s last 30 seconds near midcourt, then calmly stepped up to the arc and nailed a trey to send the Minutemen into the locker room with a 41-29 lead.
Williams and Riley each had a 3-pointer as UMass pushed its lead to 20 with 11:59 left, and the crowd was on its feet and dancing like the students who competed in the halftime salsa contest judged by former Minuteman receiver Victor Cruz.
But Xavier wasn’t ready to sit this one out. A Justin Martin follow and a pair of 3-pointers by Brad Redford provided an 8-0 run, and the Musketeers continued to chip away, pulling within 8 on a Mark Lyons hoop with 7:30 left.
However, Williams ended the Musketeers’ 14-2 run with a 3-pointer, and a couple of minutes later, after Xavier again had its deficit to 8, Williams hit another from beyond the arc. From that point on, he had the ball in his hand pretty much every time UMass was in possession, and Xavier could do little else but foul him. And Williams made every free throw he attempted down the stretch.
“He completely dominated the game,’’ said Xavier coach Chris Mack. “He’s a dynamo with the ball. He can do anything he wants.’’
Did Kellogg agree with that assessment? “I don’t think it’s close,’’ said the UMass coach. “He looked confident out there.’’
Binghamton 57, Vermont 53 - Robert Mansell scored a game-high 18 points and the Bearcats put a shocking dent in the Catamounts’ America East regular-season title hopes in Vestal, N.Y.
With its destiny - and a tiebreaker over Stony Brook - in its hands, Vermont (19-11, 12-3) lost for the first time in 11 games. Binghamton (1-26, 1-13) had been the only winless team in Division 1.
Stony Brook 74, Hartford 50 - Bryan Dougher scored 17 points and the Seawolves (19-8, 13-2) took advantage of Vermont’s loss, beating the host Hawks (8-20, 7-8).
Kentucky 73, Mississippi St 64 - Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 18 points and the top-ranked Wildcats (27-1, 13-0 Southeastern) rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit to beat the Bulldogs (19-9, 6-7).
Kansas St. 78, Missouri 68 - Rodney McGruder scored 24 points and the Wildcats (19-8, 8-7 Big 12) upset the No. 3 Tigers (25-3, 12-3) for the second time this season.
North Carolina 86, N.C. State 74 - In Raleigh, N.C., Kendall Marshall had a career-high 22 points and 13 assists and Harrison Barnes scored 20 points to help the No. 7 Tar Heels (24-4, 11-1 ACC) beat the Wolfpack (18-10, 7-6).
Ohio St. 83, Illinois 67 - Deshaun Thomas scored 19 points, and the eighth-ranked Buckeyes (23-5, 11-4) shot 65 percent from the field, rolling over the visiting Illini (16-12, 5-10) to remain in the thick of the Big Ten race.
Seton Hall 73, Georgetown 55 - Jordan Theodore scored a career-high 29 points to lead the Pirates (19-9, 8-8 Big East) to the signature win they needed for their NCAA Tournament résumé, upsetting the No. 9 Hoyas (20-6, 10-5) in Newark.
Michigan 67, Northwestern 55 - Trey Burke, Zack Novak, and Stu Douglass hit 3-pointers to start overtime and the No. 11 Wolverines (21-7, 11-4 Big Ten) beat the Wildcats (16-11, 6-9) for their fourth straight victory.
Florida 63, Auburn 47 - Kenny Boynton was part of a hot-shooting night for the 12th-ranked Gators, scoring 20 points as Florida (22-6, 10-3 Southeastern) overcame 18 turnovers to beat the Tigers (14-13, 4-9).
Baylor 80, Texas 59 - Brittney Griner had 18 points with 10 rebounds and the top-ranked Bears claimed the outright Big 12 title with a victory over the Longhorns (15-12, 5-10).
Griner’s 40th career double-double came in her 100th game at Baylor (28-0, 15-0).
UConn 86, Pittsburgh 37 - Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored 23 points to lead the No. 4 Huskies (25-3, 12-2 Big East) to a blow out of the Panthers (8-19, 0-14), the hosts’ 13th straight loss.Material from staff and wire services was used.