AMHERST — The blizzard changed everything. The blizzard changed nothing.
The game originally was scheduled for a 2 p.m. national telecast Saturday, but the storm named after a cartoon fish halted all traffic in Massachusetts, even the trip to the Mullins Center hardwood for the University of Massachusetts and Saint Joseph’s. Tip-off was pushed back to 7 and the telecast was relegated to a webcast.
But for the Minutemen, it was showtime regardless.
Chaz Williams, the little engine that drives the Minutemen, let that be known from the opening tip. After Raphiael Putney tipped the ball to the 5-foot-9-inch point guard, Williams spotted Putney in full gallop toward the basket and lofted a pass from near midcourt. There was a roar of anticipation from the packed UMass student section — what else is there to do on a snowbound weekend evening? — but when the 6-9 forward missed the dunk, the roar became a groan.
Not to worry. There was more where that came from.
By the end of the night, the Minutemen had raised the roof with a season-high 10 dunks and run the Hawks off the court for an 80-62 victory before 4,479, including the biggest student showing of the season.
“They’re like knockout punches,” said Sampson Carter, who had a season-high 16 points that included some of those slams. “Teams don’t like to get dunked on.”
UMass (16-6, 6-3 Atlantic 10) got three of those dunks on consecutive scoring plays during a 16-2 run late in the first half that allowed the Minutemen to head to the locker room with a 14-point lead. It would have been worse for Saint Joseph’s if Freddie Riley hadn’t missed a breakaway slam just before the buzzer.
The Hawks (13-9, 4-5) quickly cut into the deficit after intermission, with Carl Jones (13 points) sandwiching a pair of 3-pointers around a couple of free throws. But UMass put a halt to the 8-0 run with — what else? — a dunk. Cady Lalanne got a defender off his feet with an up-fake, then was fouled as he slammed the ball through. His free throw was followed by a steal by the UMass press that resulted in a Riley breakaway layup and, once again, a double-digit lead.
But while the Minutemen continued with their sizzle, Saint Joe’s brought out the steak. The beefy Halil Kanacevic, who went scoreless for an anemic Hawks inside game in the first half, began to take control underneath. The 6-8, 255-pound junior had 10 straight points for the visitors, and when Jones nailed another trey, it was a 5-point game with just under seven minutes left.
UMass responded by taking it right to the beef. Terrell Vinson took Kanacevic twice down low, getting a pair of free throws the first time, then a driving basket. After Roberts missed the front end of a one-and-one, Williams (11 points, 9 assists) raced downcourt and scored on an end-to-end drive.
Following another UMass stop, it was Sampson Carter’s turn to take it to Kanacevic. He hit a shot underneath, was fouled, and hit the free throw. Moments later he took a no-look pass from Williams and made a jumper from the left baseline to put the icing on an 11-0 run that restored the Minutemen’s 16-point lead.
“Today it looked like UMass basketball,” said coach Derek Kellogg, “the way we like it to look.”
His players were hoping to see even more. Deprived of the ESPN afternoon spotlight, they were hoping their alley-oop dunks and no-look passes might make the “SportsCenter” Top 10 Plays.
“I hope we make ESPN tonight,” said Carter.
His coach liked the idea, calling over to one of the athletic department’s PR staff. “Make sure we send out the tapes.”