Alumni Gym was packed. The 1,857 fans were loud and clad in all white. Despite the raucous home-court advantage for the Elon University men’s basketball team, it was not Elon’s night.
The University of Massachusetts, ranked No. 15 in the nation, took an 84-74 win over the Phoenix behind 38 points in the paint.
“It was a very good win for us on the road,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Elon. This was a very good, tough, full 40 minutes for us.”
“UMass is nationally recognized for a reason,” Elon coach Matt Matheny said. “I thought our guys played hard. I think we did not play as clean as we needed to offensively.”
The UMass Minutemen never trailed in the game, and held a lead of seven or more points for the game’s final 31 minutes. UMass jumped out to a 7-0 lead, including an alley-oop dunk by senior forward Raphiael Putney in the game’s first ten seconds.
“That’s not the way you want to start,” Elon senior guard Sebastian Koch said. “We want to be the team that punches the other team in the mouth and today we got punched.”
Elon countered quickly with five points of its own, including a three-pointer from sophomore guard Tanner Samson, the first three of his 14 points on the night.
For the next few minutes, the game remained close, with the score sitting at 20-14 in favor of UMass at the under-12 media timeout. The Minutemen began to pull away from that point, holding Elon without a field goal from the 12:05 to 6:20 marks of the half. A key to UMass’ success was their play in the paint, specifically junior center Cady Lalanne, who Kellogg called the “difference” in the game. In the first eleven minutes of the half, Lalanne converted four layups en route to his 23 points on the game.
“We had a lot of points in the paint – not just on post-ups but on drives,” Kellogg said. “We shot the ball pretty good early, and I thought they had to come out and spread out a little bit on us.”
Elon cut the margin to eight points on numerous occasions down the stretch in the first half, but ultimately headed to the locker room trailing, 41-30. The Phoenix only shot 30 percent in the half, just 3-for-13 from three-point range. Elon would finish the night shooting only 34 percent, a stat that Matheny attributed to the length of UMass defensively.
“A lot of the reason for our 34 percent is because UMass is so long,” Matheny said. “They challenge shots, they run at you when you’re shooting on the perimeter and in the paint they challenge shots as well.”
The story of the second half was UMass senior guard Chaz Williams. Williams, held scoreless in the first half, went off for 20 points after the intermission.
“We said ‘he’s going to be more aggressive in the second half’ and he was,” Matheny remarked.
Williams scored five of the Minutemen’s first nine points in the second half, allowing them to maintain the 11-point advantage over seven minutes in. Elon got three-pointers from Koch, senior forward Ryley Beaumont and senior guard Jack Isenbarger by the 13:40 mark of the half.
The Koch three pushed the Munich, Germany native over 1,000 career points, making him the third active Phoenix to reach the mark.
Beaumont picked up his fourth personal foul at the 9:19 mark of the half, causing freshman forwards Brian Dawkins and Christian Hairston to play more minutes than usual.
“Our rotation was different,” Matheny said. “I thought it was great experience for Brian and also for Christian. I thought they gave us good minutes.”
The roles of Dawkins and Hairston were magnified by the fact that junior forward Ryan Winters was unable to play, the second straight game he missed with a sore back that Matheny said “came out of nowhere.”
Elon never got closer than seven points in the second half, and the Minutemen extended their margin to ten points by shooting free throws down the stretch. Nearly every time that the Phoenix extended the lead, the Minutemen, and specifically Williams, had an answer. Koch summed it up by saying that “we just didn’t get enough stops today.”
UMass improved to 16-1 despite pregame qualms from their head coach.
“Going on the road and playing a good RPI game is always good if you’re trying to be an NCAA tournament team,” Kellogg said. “I was nervous coming in, I knew (Elon) could beat us.”
Elon falls to 10-9, and will return to Southern Conference play with a match-up at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga set for 7 p.m. on Thursday night, Jan. 23.