GAME NOTES: The Charleston Classic tips off at TD Arena on Thursday afternoon with a showdown between unbeaten squads, as the Nebraska Cornhuskers tangle with the Massachusetts Minutemen.
The winner will advance to Friday's semifinal round to face either UAB or New Mexico, while the losers will fall to the consolation bracket.
Nebraska opened the campaign with a perfect three-game homestand. After dismissing last March's Cinderella squad Florida Gulf Coast in the opener (79-55), the Cornhuskers followed with two more blowout victories over Western Illinois (62-47) and South Carolina State (83-57) to start 3-0 for the fourth straight season.
UMass' 3-0 start has been arguably even more impressive than Nebraska's. The Minutemen began the season on the road at Boston College and came away with an 86-73 win. After beating an upstart LSU squad at home (92-90), they dismissed Youngstown State on Sunday in their most convincing victory yet (85-69).
This tournament brings the Cornhuskers and the Minutemen together on the basketball court for the first time.
The Cornhuskers put forth a solid all-around effort in their latest win. Not only the did they shoot 26-of-56 from the floor and 23-of-32 from the free- throw line while committing only five turnovers, but they held SC State to a meager 32.1 percent shooting and forced 16 takeaways. Ray Gallegos (18 points) and Deverell Biggs (17 points) both made strong season debuts off the bench, with Gallegos showing no rust from 3-point range (6-of-10). Tai Webster scored 13 points, Leslee Smith tallied 12 points and seven rebounds, while Shavon Shields rounded out the balanced attack with 10 points.
With three dominant victories in the books, it's no surprise Nebraska boasts outstanding margins in scoring (+21.7), rebounding (+2.7) and turnovers (+8.0). The return of Gallegos and Biggs will only help the play of Shields, who is averaging 17.0 points per game. Terran Petteway (11.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and Webster (10.0 ppg) are also playing well.
Despite a poor showing from beyond the arc (4-of-14) and an abnormally high number of turnovers (19), UMass was able to cruise to an easy win over Youngstown State the last time out behind 55.2 percent field goal shooting and a convincing advantage in the rebounding battle (48-33). Chaz Williams (19 points, 11 assists) and Cady Lalanne both logged double-doubles to give the squad an equally threatening presence out on the perimeter as well as in the paint. Sampson Carter also poured in 19 points on 6-of-9 from the floor, while Raphiael Putney turned in 17 points, seven boards and four assists.
Scoring has come rather easily for the Minutemen through three games (87.7 ppg), as they drain greater than 50 percent of their tries from the field. Williams is expected to be one of the Atlantic 10's best guards this season, and he is off to a great start with 21.0 points and 8.0 assists per game. Lalanne (18.7 ppg, 11.0 rpg) has made nearly 80 percent of his field goal attempts. Carter (16.0 ppg) and Putney (11.0 ppg) are integral parts of the attack as well.
Nebraska's soft schedule in the early going will get much more difficult in this event, and it remains to be seen how it will respond against better competition. UMass has displayed great balance in its perfect start and should be able to ride that momentum into an opening-round victory.
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