Beacons Neuter Huskes

Umass Forward Rodney Bennett puts back a rebound in Beacons win

Umass Forward Rodney Bennett puts back a rebound in Beacons win

Ben Whelan

Tuesday’s blowout 96-61 win over the Uinversity of Southern Maine was a perfect example of how the UMass Beacons should have been playing all season. Led by 23 points from star guard Tony Barros and a tenacious defense that never let the visitors catch their breath, the Beacons cruised to their fifth victory in conference and ninth overall.

The game was never in question with the Beacons jumping out to an early 15-4 lead in the first six minutes behind nine points from Barros and forward Eli Manna’s (7 points, 6 rebounds) dominance in the paint. From that point on the Beacons continued to roll over the hapless Huskies, who managed to slim the lead to nine at one point but would never get any closer. The Beacons powered by the Southern Maine and put the game away for all intents and purposes by way of a 14-4 run over the last 7:30 of the first half, sparked by back to back turnovers, the first of which was flushed by Beacon’s guard Amigo Paniagua (13points, 6 rebounds). Over that stretch the Beacons played some of their most ferocious defense of the season, forcing southern Maine into six turnovers and numerous bad shots.

The Beacon’s came out to start the second half even hotter than they started, with freshman guard and Washington state transplant Anthony Matlock connecting on three pointers on three consecutive possessions. Overall the Beacons scored on ten of their first eleven possessions on offense to start the half in a stunning display of the offensive efficiency and discipline that Coach Charlie Titus has been trying to instill all season. “We’ve been working on this stuff all season” said Titus after the game “It finally came together. This is how we should have been playing all year”. His son, point guard A.J. Titus echoed the sentiment, attributing the win to “discipline on offense and intensity on defense. Its as simple as that”.

Any hopes that the visitors from Southern Maine had of a miracle come-back were quickly snuffed out, as the Beacons poured in 34 points in a little over ten minutes to make the game little more than a scrimmage. Forward Rodney Bennett (14 points, 7 rebounds, 1 block) punctuated the win by throwing down a thunderous dunk on an alley-oop from Barros at the 11:25 mark of the second half, leaving a crowd of helpless Huskie’s defenders in his wake as he flew through the air to jam the ball down their proverbial throats. Bennett’s slam seemed to completely take the air out of Southern Maine who played with a distinct lack of intensity the rest of the way, peppered with heated exchanges between players on the floor fueled by their frustration at being completely unable to slow down the Beacons attack or organize themselves on offense.

Interestingly, Coach Titus kept his starters in the game until the twelve- minute mark of the game despite leading by almost thirty points. When questioned after the game, coach Titus explained that “a lot of coaches would have taken [the starters] out a lot earlier, but at the end of the game we were really preparing for Tufts, which is going to be a tough road game for us. I wanted to keep the guys in there while everything was still clicking to give them a sense of what playing this way feels like. We practice hard all week, but this is a good way to really burn this stuff into their brains”.

Although the game was long over, the waning moments remained interesting as some of the younger Beacons got a chance to show their stuff. Freshman point guard Robert Zotti (Providence, RI) showed why much of the coaching staff is so high on him by taking advantage of his ten minutes of playing time to record six points, two rebounds and an assist while not missing a single shot (1-1 FG, 4-4 FTs). More impressive was Zotti’s ball handling and ability to make smart decisions while running the offense, as well as his airtight man-to-man defense which assistant coach Rodney Hughes says may be the best on the team.

“We really needed a game like this” concluded coach Titus “It’s a really good way to build momentum heading into the playoffs.”

An exuberant Barros seemed ready to take on all comers after exiting the locker room following the game, the confident smile of a former champion flashing across his face. “None of these guys want to play us right now” Barros exclaimed “We’ve beaten everybody in the conference except UMass-Dartmouth and we’ve proven that we’re the best in the league. It’s a new season for us and our [regular season] record doesn’t matter. We look at it as being 0-0 right now and we only have two games left before the playoffs start, so we’re ready to go.”