The Minutemen (6-0) are one of only 30 teams out of 348 in the nation that have yet to suffer a loss this year. Despite their success, UMass coach Derek Kellogg realizes his team hasn’t played perfect.
“I’m trying to make sure our guys stay grounded,” Kellogg said. “We still have a lot of things to work on; I don’t think we’ve played great basketball up to this point. We’ve really not yet reached where we can get to.”
According to Kellogg, the team hasn’t played a full game, from start to finish, as well as he would like. For instance, in the season opener against Rider, the Minutemen came out flat and fell into a 22-point hole early in the second half. Though they made a staggering 40-9 run to eventually win, Kellogg wasn’t pleased with the slow start.
In its last contest against Holy Cross at the Curry Hicks Cage, UMass failed to finish strong. After the Minutemen built up a 24-point lead, the Crusaders went on a 26-6 run, forcing UMass to win at the foul line at the end of the contest.
While Kellogg is content with the offense and the point-production from various players, he feels the team needs to improve on defense.
“We have to get better defensively,” Kellogg said. “I mean, anytime you have a 24-point lead in the second half and eight minutes later it’s down to four or six, something’s not right. After being able to watch the tape, at spans at different points in the game, guys were not playing sound defensively.”
Quinnipiac, meanwhile, enters the matchup as a team expected to contend for a Northeast Conference title. After defeating Maine on Monday, the Bobcats are now 4-1 to begin the year.
The last time UMass and Quinnipiac met was on Dec. 2, 2009, at the Mullins Center as the Minutemen pulled out a closely-contested, 62-58 win.
Former guard Ricky Harris led UMass with a team-high 19 points, while Anthony Gurley and Sean Carter added 15 and 11, respectively. The offense, however was stagnant towards the end of the game, failing to register a field goal for the final four minutes, 35 seconds.
Free throws by now-transferred point guard by David Gibbs and Gurley kept the Bobcats at bay, allowing the Minutemen to win their third game of the year.
Quinnipiac was led by guard James Feldeine, who poured in 20 points on 9-for-20 shooting from the field. Forward Justin Rutty dominated the glass, pulling down nine offensive rebounds for a game-high 13 boards.
“The big kid, [Justin] Rutty for them really destroyed us,” Kellogg said. “It was an offensive rebounding display by him and they have really good guards, both of them averaging almost 20 [points] a game. They’re a senior-laden team, an older team.”
Though Quinnipiac is the only opponent separating a matchup between UMass and Boston College on Saturday at the TD Garden, Kellogg knows his team can’t get complacent, especially in a topsy-turvy season such as college basketball.
“Basketball is a funny sport,” Kellogg said. “You play so many games, they could go either way really fast. You can turn things around in a positive way, or things can just come off the tracks in a negative way. My job is to make sure these guys keep the train moving forward.”
Jay Asser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.