AMHERST, Mass. -- A frequent topic of conversation in the first days of the college basketball season is a rules change essentially directing officials to give offenses more room to maneuver and defenses a little less leeway.
The change coincided with the University of Massachusetts getting to the free throw line 40 times in its 92-90 win over LSU in a Tuesday morning game pitting teams on the NCAA tournament bubble in early projections.
On the surface, UMass’ Sampson Carter seemingly was a primary beneficiary, getting to the line 15 times and hitting 11, both career highs. But most of the calls would have been made regardless of any adjustment to the rules.
Carter was aggressive to the basket from the start despite the presence of a solid LSU front line. The 6-foot-8, 220-pound senior finished with 17 points, matching his career best. That came on the heels of a 12-point effort that including a personal 7-0 outburst that sparked an 86-73 win over Boston College on Sunday.
“As you all can see, I’m really not as athletic as [teammate Raphiael Putney] or Maxie Esho,” Carter said. “All my life when I have to play with these type of guys, I have to do the grunt work, using ball fakes, using my body. I knew what I had to do coming into the game. That’s just the player I am.”
More than just a mindset, Carter’s early success also can be attributed to his health.
Carter missed all but seven games of the 2011-12 season with a hip injury that required surgery. The hip continued to dog him at times last season and required a follow-up procedure at the end of the campaign. Carter said Monday on the UMass basketball radio show that during the procedure, doctors discovered there was a loose screw, which helped explain his discomfort.
Carter said he felt better almost immediately, that he didn’t even need the crutches he was given after the procedure, and was able to dedicate this offseason to getting in the best shape of his career.
“I dedicated the whole summer to my body, with eating right and not missing a rep in the weight room, just sacrificing a lot,” he said Tuesday. “I feel strong out there and my bounce is back. I’m just focusing on playing hard all the time.”
Carter iced the game for UMass with four free throws in the last 14 seconds, a position he’s comfortable being in.
“I think I’m a guy that does well under pressure,” he said. “With my style, I have to work on my free throws day in and day out.”
Carter has shown a knack for the early start times too. Last year, he hit the game-winning 3-pointer in the closing seconds of a 67-64 win over Harvard that also was part of ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon, a 10 a.m. start.
Asked about Tuesday’s preponderance of whistle-blowing (there were 54 fouls called, 29 against LSU), UMass coach Derek Kellogg said he wasn’t really surprised.
“I thought the refs did a pretty good job,” he said. “They’re trying to adjust to the new rules and early in the year there will probably be more ticky-tack stuff than later in the year, but I thought they did a good job. There’s some stuff in the post they want to clean up, but I thought they were fair. Maybe they called a couple more than normal, but I thought they were fair.”
UMass point guard Chaz Williams also made hay at the line, scoring 10 of his game-high 24 points from the stripe.
Whether or not he directly benefitted from the rules adjustment, Carter isn’t complaining.
“Honestly, I’m so glad they changed the rules,” he said. “Throughout my career, I’d get body contact and they (the refs) would just look at me. Now just to know I’m getting the call is an amazing feeling.”