Derrio Green week in the Atlantic 10 came to a close with a 34 point peformance as the Niners defeated UMass at the Mullins Center 72-58. The win puts the Niners back in a three way tie (6-1) with Temple and Xavier atop the league and with a 16-5 record are off to their best start since 2004-2005 when they ran out to a 21-4 record before losing their last four.
Green was at his best, connecting from both inside and out as he topped his outstanding 26 point performance earlier in the week against Temple. Green connected on 8-16 from 3-point land and 9-19 overall. Phil Jones was the only other Niner in double digits with 12, 7 of them coming consecutively in a run that took a perilous 3 point lead in the second half and extended it to 10. The run included a three pointer and another where he seemed to have just one foot on the line.
For UMass, it was another dreadful night shooting the ball. The Minutemen managed just 4 makes from 28 attempts from beyond the arc. Ricky Harris was the leading scorer for UMass, scoring 25 on 11-24 shooting including 3-10 from outside. Anthony Gurley was the only other player for the Minutemen in double figures, scoring 11 on 4-11 shooting and missing on all five of his attempts from deep. Former Niner recruit Sean Carter had a solid game on the defensive end, grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking 4 shots.
Both teams opened the game trading buckets early on with Gurley hitting a basket to give UMass an early 9-6 lead. A Shamari Spears put back and a Derrio Green three pointer gave the Niners their first lead, one they would not relinquish. It was this first half where Green did most of his damage, scoring 21 points, including 5 three-pointers and a dazzling drive and finish near the rim on a difficult scoop-shot layup. The outburst gave the Niners an 8 point lead at the half, 34-26.
The second half opened up with a sustained run by UMass that cut the Niner lead to just one at 37-36 on a Ricky Harris layup. The narrow lead persisted over the next two minutes as the teams exchanged misses, turnovers, and fouls until An’Juan Wilderness broke a 4 minute scoring drought with a tough layup. That’s when Jones took over, scoring the next 7 points including a 3-pointer about 4 feet behind the arc as the Niners re-built the lead back into double digits. A parade of free throws by Charlotte extended the lead to 17 with 6 minutes to go. However, the Niners appeared to lose focus a bit in the closing stretch of the game, allowing UMass to shrink the lead to 10 with about a minute to go with miscues by Charles Dewhurst and a pair of surprising turnovers by DiJuan Harris.
Overall it was a solid win for the Niners as they showed the team can win the trap games on the road, something Derrio Green acknowledged in his post-game comments. For fans, it’s comforting to see his development, as it shows teams will have to choose their poison against the Niners: try to shut down the Niner perimeter game? Shamari Spears and Chris Braswell will hurt you inside. Focus on limiting the interior game like UMass did tonight (Spears had 4 points on 2-8 shooting, Braswell with 7 on 2-6 shooting) and Derrio will make you pay.
Though the Niners were outrebounded on the night by 5 and UMass managed 12 offensive boards, this should come as little surprise. As we mentioned in the pregame, the Minutemen are tough rebounders, particularly on the offensive glass. The Niners managed to secure a victory in my personal favorite stat: foul shooting. Charlotte hit 21 of 30 FTAs, the makes being 9 more than UMass even attempted (9-12). An advantage like that is very difficult to overcome and is a hallmark of tournament caliber teams coached by Bobby Lutz.
Up next for the Niners are the George Washington Colonials on Wednesday in Halton Arena followed by a trip to the Bronx to take on the Fordham Rams next Saturday. A pair of victories and the Niners could be looking at their first trip into the Top 25 in 5 years.