AMHERST, Mass. – Northern Illinois coach Mark Montgomery liked the way his team hung in there against No. 22 Massachusetts on Saturday.
The Huskies battled, but never really threatened in losing 80-54.
"We just couldn't get over the hump," Montgomery said. "They sped us up.
"With them getting off to a good start, I'm glad my team weathered the storm early because UMass can run you out of the building. We kept it . at least we kept it at 12 at halftime."
NIU (3-5) scored the first two points of the game but that was the Huskies' only lead, as UMass ran off the next 11 points to take control.
Montgomery said his team was dealing with some physical issues, including starting 3-man Aaric Armstead being out with a groin pull.
"We're still a young team," he said. "We had a couple of guys banged up . we have a fairly new team but what I like about our team is if you throw this game out of it every game has been decided within the last four or five minutes."
Freshman guard Dontel Highsmith led the Huskies with 10 points, while redshirt junior center Pete Rakocevic had nine points and four rebounds.
Montgomery was impressed with the Minutemen (9-0).
"I told Derek at the end of the game that they're going to make a serious run in the (NCAA) tournament, barring injuries," Montgomery said.
"Just so many options. When your 3 and 4 men can shoot like theirs, with (Raphiael) Putney and (Sampson) Carter, it's matchup problems — and that opens up for (Cady) Lalanne. Good team. They can score with the best of them. I like their pieces."
Montgomery didn't even mention star guard Chaz Williams, who was coming off career highs of 32 points and 15 assists in the Dec. 7 win over Brigham Young, and had 12 points and seven assists — and didn't score a field goal until the final minute of the first half.
Lalanne led five players in double figures with 16 points as the Minutemen continued the program's best start since the 1995-96 team opened 26-0.
UMass trailed only by 2-0, running off 11 straight points — nine on 3-pointers by Putney — to take control. They had their sloppy moments and weren't as sharp as Kellogg would have liked at times, but they got the job done and allowed a season-low 54 points.
"It's all positive. I think we could have played a little better in spurts," Kellogg said. "We got careless with the basketball more than anything, and our defense came and went . but all in all our guys won the game, took care of business and we're going to move on to the next game (at Ohio University on Wednesday)."
Putney added 13 points and Maxie Esho had 12 points and seven rebounds in the easy win. Freshman Clyde Santee, who had played just 3-plus minutes coming in, scored the first 13 points of his college career — all in a span of 5:34.
Sampson added eight points and seven rebounds for the Minutemen.
The Minutemen led by 12 points at halftime and were never in jeopardy despite some lackluster play. The lead grew to 27 points as Kellogg cleared his bench early.
The game was the second of four the Minutemen have to play each season as part of the agreement that brought the UMass football team into the Mid-American Conference. UMass is in the Atlantic 10 in basketball.