AMHERST — New defensive rules prohibiting everything from hand-checks to mean stares threaten to slow college basketball to a game of H-O-R-S-E. Or a game of “hoarse” for touchy coaches and fans who can’t help but let the referees hear about it for whistling so many ticky-tack fouls.
But that didn’t prevent the University of Massachusetts and Louisiana State from getting physical right from the opening tip Monday at the Mullins Center. Sampson Carter, among the most aggressive Minutemen with the ball, took that tip and went hard to the basket. There he met Jordan Mickey, one of three freshman starters for LSU, who emphatically blocked the shot and sent the Tigers on a break. At the other end, another freshman, Jarell Martin, took the ball to the hole for a dunk, but his attempt was swatted away by Raphiael Putney.
The game was 10 seconds old, and a tone had been set, physically and verbally.
“It was very physical, very intense,” said Chaz Williams, who played his usual role as a point guard/spark plug in the Minutemen’s 92-90 victory before 5,182 in an 11 a.m. start that was part of the nationally televised College Hoops Tip Off Marathon. “First play of the game, there was trash talking between both teams.”
Williams, who had 24 points and 9 assists, ramped up the intensity with a particularly physical gesture on the floor. That’s a literal observation: He got physical with the actual hardwood.
It was midway through the opening half, and the Minutemen’s mini-maestro had just scored his first point of the day on a free throw that gave Massachusettss (2-0) a 15-12 lead.
As he set up just past midcourt to play defense, in knees-bent position, Williams leaned forward and took a two-handed slap at the floor. The Tigers (0-1) drew closer, and he made another audible swat.
The crowd responded by becoming audible as well, particularly in a student section that exhibited more zest than a morning literature class discussing Kerouac. Then the team in spiffy new gray home uniforms responded, getting stops on the next three LSU possessions as the Minutemen built a cushion that would reach double figures in just over three minutes.
That was not the end of the story, of course, but it became the visitors’ serial plot line. LSU was fighting an uphill battle.
The Tiger with the most fight in him was junior big man Johnny O’Bryant III, who was a force underneath, scoring 14 of his 23 points and grabbing six (of his 11) rebounds in the first half.
Just after O’Bryant left with his third foul about a minute before the break, LSU pulled within a point on a 3-pointer by Anthony Hickey (16 points). But a Williams trey sent the Minutemen into the locker room with a 49-45 lead.
The late foul would haunt LSU the rest of the way, as O’Bryant had to tone down his defensive aggressiveness. Massachusettss began the second half with an 11-2 run to build its biggest lead, at 60-47, with junior Cady Lalanne (16 points, 6 rebounds) taking charge inside.
The starting center, who had gone scoreless in just four minutes on the court before halftime because of foul trouble, scored three baskets during the run and owned the boards.
“That’s Cady being Cady,” said Williams.
UMass also saw stretches of Raphiael being Raphiael, when Putney — whose angular frame was an exclamation point in his sophomore year but who often was an invisible man last season — was going through high-octane spurts that would add up to a 14-point, 9-rebound, 2-block performance.
And there were significant periods of Sampson being Sampson, when Carter (career-high-tying 17 points, 11 of 15 from the line) took the ball to the hoop and either scored, drew a foul, or did both.
“I feel tremendously strong out there,” he said.
But the matinee crowd had to sweat it out as UMass fended off LSU rally after LSU rally. The Minutemen had a 6-point lead in the final minute before the Tigers’ press closed the gap. Four free throws by Carter became breathtakingly necessary when Hickey hit a trey at the buzzer.
“That was fun,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg, whose program won its fifth straight home opener. “We played well.
“And we made sure we were a little more mature than we’ve been in years past when teams make a run at us. We kept at it, kept fighting.”