Minutemen full of shooters in early part of season
If Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg had not figured it out yet, he now knows his team is a shooting one.
Despite guard Ricky Harris’ shooting 33 percent with a season-low 10 points, several players stepped up and put them in during his off night.
“I’m going to have nights like this, and I have to have confidence in my teammates – that they’re going to come out and play just like they did tonight,” Harris said.
The other Minutemen (2-2) finished the game shooting 53 percent from the floor behind a 5-for-9 shooting effort from redshirt junior Anthony Gurley (18 points), who finished with the game-high.
With just under six minutes remaining, UMass battled to a 68-59 lead after St. Francis cut the deficit to three points earlier in the half.
Gurley then scored eight points in five minutes, anchoring a 14-4 late-game run that gave the Minutemen a 19-point lead with a minute left.
The sixth man also had the game-high (21 points) in the win against Arkansas-Fort Smith, where he finished 8-for-12 on field-goals attempts.
As much as Gurley’s offense once again led the way for UMass, he wasn’t the only one having a good night.
Freshman Sampson Carter finished with a career-high 13 points, which included perfect free-throw shooting on four attempts. After the game, Kellogg said Carter did exactly what he recruited him to do offensively.
“I’ve been staying after and working on my game and trying to get better on the offensive side,” Carter said of his improvement since the season’s start.
Five players finished the game in double figures, while the other starting freshman, Terrell Vinson (13 points, 3-of-4 shooting) was also perfect on six free throws. Kellogg said Vinson’s free-throw shooting is why he played some time at center over Sean Carter, who made no free throws on four attempts.
With Harris cold and UMass up by three points, Kellogg said it was important that his team found multiple others on whom he could rely for quality minutes. Many of those points came in the paint, where the Minutemen held an advantage in both wins.
On Tuesday night, UMass outscored the Terriers (0-4), 38-28, in the paint.
“I was happy that a lot of different guys were able to step up on a night when Ricky really didn’t play his best game,” Kellogg said.
Harris said the freshmen’s composure impressed him during the last few games. Against St. Joseph’s, the four newcomers who played combined for 43 of UMass’ 83 points with 56 percent shooting.
“I think these last few games were good stepping stones for [the freshmen],” Harris said. “They got their confidence up. You could see them out on the floor playing with confidence.”
Guard Freddie Riley (12 points) made half of his eight shots from long range. Although Kellogg found Riley’s decisions to take difficult shots frustrating, he praised the freshman’s ability to learn quickly.
Harris further praised the guard out of Hargrave Military Academy when he said that Riley’s willingness to shoot essentially takes some of the pressure off, which allows him to get open when needed.
“Riley always steps up and hits four or five 3s a game, so it takes a lot of pressure off of me because, sometimes, teams will start lagging off of me and playing other guys,” Harris said.
Heavyweights await UMass
While the Minutemen take on Rutgers in New Jersey, the marquee matchup on Friday night will feature undefeated Florida and Michigan State.
The No. 2 Spartans (4-0) enter the game undefeated with their last win coming in a 30-point rout over Valparaiso. Their only win that wasn’t in the double-digits came on Nov. 17 when they beat Gonzaga 75-71.
MSU has found success thus far because of a defense that allows 62.9 points per game while averaging 84.2. Its leading scorer is Lucas Kalin (16.8 points per game) though four players average in the double-digits.
The Gators (4-0) have also proven to be a solid defensively while thrashing pretty much every opponent they play on their way to an undefeated record. Their biggest win was a 22-point thumping over Troy on Nov. 20.
UF played its last home game on Tuesday night against Florida State and stifled its opportunities offensively. In the first half, the Gators held the Seminoles to 19 points before FSU made its own run. However, it struggled to match-up defensively against UF late in the game as the Gators pulled away.
Adam Miller can be reached at email@example.com.