AMHERST — The Mullins Center crowd roared. Two points for Richmond.
Well, what the University of Massachusetts fans hadn’t quite noticed before they burst into applause — or they did see but were thinking wishfully — was that Cady Lalanne’s dynamic blocked shot, which sent the ball nearly into the courtside seats, came after Greg Robbins’s inside floater already had reached its apex. So as the building rocked, the refs signaled goaltending and a basket for the visitors.
Perhaps the cheering crowd of 5,467 simply had a premonition. That hoop with 6:24 remaining was the last one the Spiders scored Sunday afternoon, as UMass worked its way out of a 7-point hole to earn a 70-65 victory.
“Stops,” said Sampson Carter (10 points). “We just keyed in on stops, one stop at a time. And defensive rebounding.”
It actually got worse for the Minutemen (13-5, 3-2 Atlantic 10) before it got better. On the possession following the goaltend, Lalanne had a chance to put points on the board for his own team but missed the front end of a one-and-one. Raphiael Putney then was whistled on the rebound, sending Richmond’s Alonzo Nelson-Ododa to the line, and the redshirt freshman hit both ends of his one-and-one, making it 63-56.
But Chaz Williams (18 points) hit a 3-pointer, and UMass clamped down on the other end. Putney added a pair of free throws, and UMass made another stop. Then Lalanne (12 points on 5-of-8 shooting, three offensive rebounds) made a strong move inside to tie the game with 4:09 left.
“That’s Cady being Cady,” said Williams. “He’s a big kid, he’s a monster. So whenever you get him the ball, he’s going to put his body on people. He’s one of the best finishers on our team.”
On this day, all of the Minutemen were finishers, on both ends of the floor. After Carter, fouled underneath, put UMass ahead with two free throws with 2:11 left, the home team’s press seemed to get to Richmond (13-8, 3-3), which had arrived at the Mullins on a high from Thursday’s upset of No. 19 Virginia Commonwealth.
“Our defense, it didn’t turn them over, but it did get them out of kilter,” said coach Derek Kellogg. “That’s a team that if you have to cover their movement for 25 seconds, they’re going to get a decent shot. With our press, now we only had to cover them for 18 seconds.”
And when Richmond did finally fire up shots, they stopped falling. The team that came into the game as the A-10’s second-best 3-point shooting team, and had hit seven of its first 16 attempts, managed but one of eight down the stretch. Darien Brothers came in as the nation’s top marksman from beyond the arc (50 percent), but he hit just one of nine. And after his final miss of the day, which was sandwiched by a pair of 3-point bricks by Kendall Anthony, UMass had the ball with a minute to go, looking to put the game away.
The clock wound down until Williams, dribbling outside, found a cutting Freddie Riley for a reverse layup and a 4-point lead for the Minutemen with 27 seconds to go.
“When the ball first got inbounded,” said Riley, “I looked at Chaz and told him I was going backdoor.”
Said Williams, “I told him if it’s there I’m going to give it to you. It was there, and I just made a basketball play.”
Their coach admired the teamwork and absolutely loved the result.
“I thought Freddie did a good job of reading the defense,” said Kellogg. “He did a great job, Chaz did a nice job finding him, and that might have been one of the bigger baskets of the year.”
It was an especially timely basket, amid a game-ending 14-2 run, because it all but sewed up a no less timely victory, with UMass leaving home for games at La Salle and Charlotte this week.
Kellogg is relishing the challenge.
“Put your seat belts on,” said the coach, “because I think it’s going to be a fun ride this year, with little bumps and ups and downs.”