ATHENS, Ohio — Massachusetts’s foray into the Mid-American Conference in football has provided less than stellar results, as the Minutemen have notched only two conference wins in two seasons.
On Wednesday night, the 22d-ranked Minutemen basketball squad earned their third win in three tries against MAC foes, overcoming Ohio, 83-71, for its 10th consecutive win to begin the season.
That streak is the longest since 1998, when the Bruiser Flint-led Minutemen also won 10 straight.
The tone was set early, as Cady Lalanne swatted the first shot of the game off the hands of Ohio forward Jon Smith.
Staunch defense on the interior from Raphiael Putney, Maxie Esho, and Lalanne forced the Bobcats to the perimeter early on and it paid off — Ohio shot 14 of 32 from the field and 1 of 10 from behind the arc in the first half.
The 6-foot-10-inch Lalanne racked up three rejections in the opening 20 minutes and five for the game, falling short of his career-high of six.
Offensively, the Minutemen had their strongest shooting display of the season, hitting 61.5 percent of their shots, with the forward trio Putney, Esho, and Sampson Carter scoring a combined 41 points on 16-of-20 shooting.
“That’s uncharacteristic for any team,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said of his team’s shooting percentage. “I think we made some shots that normally we wouldn’t make. I thought we had some good looks . . . and our big guys finished around the rim.’’
The 83 points allowed was a season-high for the Bobcats, who allow 64.4 points per game with an opposing field goal percentage of 37.2.
Ohio missed its first five shots, allowing UMass to score the first three baskets of the contest and build a lead it would never relinquish.
The first Bobcat bucket came on a jump shot by Bobcat guard Nick Kellogg, son of CBS commentator and former Ohio State Buckeye Clark Kellogg, at 15:51 of the first half.
Putney carried the load offensively for a good deal of the first half, scoring 11 points, but was forced to sit the final 4:41 of the half after picking up his third foul.
Esho picked up the offense in his place, scoring 11 points and grabbing 5 boards in the opening half, while Chaz Williams struggled to find his shot, converting on only 1 of his first 6 attempts.
Esho finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, continuing a theme with the Minutemen. Derek Kellogg said he’s happy to see a variety of players earn a spot with him at the podium during the postgame news conference.
“It’s been like this since the start of the season. Everybody, like Coach said, is contributing,” Esho said.
After taking a 45-34 lead into the half, UMass was hit with a quick barrage from Ohio, as threes from Kellogg and fellow guard Stevie Taylor spurred a 13-8 Bobcat run that cut the Minutemen lead to 53-47 and the 6,329 fans at The Convocation Center to a fever pitch.
But UMass quieted the building with a 7-0 run sparked by an Esho lay-up in traffic and a Williams’s three to push the lead back to 13 points.
And Williams put the nail in the coffin with another trey from the top of the key, pushing the lead to 80-61 and letting out a boisterous scream as Bobcat fans began to file out of the building.
After struggling to find his shot in the first half, Williams scored 9 second-half points to pair with a game-high 11 assists.
“I came out sluggish and my legs were a little tired, but I just always stay the course, no matter what,” Williams said.