The Massachusetts men’s basketball team stepped onto the court Wednesday night in an unfamiliar fashion.
For the first time this season, their floor general, Chaz Williams, and greatest 3-point threat, Freddie Riley, found a seat on the bench to begin the game. The duo had started all seven games prior to this point but were benched for reasons unrelated to discipline, according to UMass head coach Derek Kellogg.
“I wanted to let them know that really there is no set lineup and that the way things went in the Bahamas I wasn’t happy with and I thought that maybe shaking it up a little bit would get their attention,” said Kellogg.
Riley and Williams both struggled in the Bahamas in certain situations. In two of the three games in the Bahamas, Riley shot a combined 1-for-12 on 3-pointers, while Williams, the team’s leader in assists, failed to register a single dime in the team’s final game of the tournament.
The unexpected move was not just about getting through to Riley and Williams, Kellogg saw this as an opportunity to get backup point guard Jesse Morgan and wingman Raphiael Putney much deserved minutes.
“It helped get Jesse some minutes at the point, and it was [going] to help Putney get some more playing time,” said Kellogg.
Putney responded well, going 4-for-4 in the first half and tallying all 10 of his points in the first 20 minutes of the game.
Kellogg was particularly pleased with Morgan’s effort as he who tossed in eight points and added a season-high nine assists.
“I thought he did a great job,” said Kellogg. “For us to be better he’s got to get better and he showed great signs in the Bahamas and I thought he showed some great signs tonight.”
Despite their absences from the starting lineup, both Riley and Williams made significant contributions.
Riley led the Minutemen with 15 points, highlighted by a pair of dunks and three 3-pointers. Williams finished just behind Riley in scoring with 12 points, and continued his dazzling play at the point guard position, dishing out eight assists.
Kellogg was pleased that coming off the bench had little effect on two of his most important players.
“Really it’s just all how they are attitude-wise,” said Kellogg. “If they come in and they’re excited and ready to play I don’t think that affects them too much.”
Ultimately, the benching meant little in terms of minutes played for Riley and Williams.
Riley played 16 minutes, a number that surely would have been higher if the score hadn’t gotten so out of hand. Morgan and Cady Lalanne led the Minutemen in minutes played with 28, but despite the benching, Williams finished right behind them playing 25 minutes, another number that likely took a hit given the score in the second half.
In the end, Riley and Williams proved there’s truly no difference between starting a game and coming in off of the bench, a point Kellogg has attempted to stress to his players ad nauseam this season.
“I’ve really tried to sell [to] these guys [there are] 10-11 starters,” he said. “I don’t know how much kids these days buy that but that’s what I’m going with.”
Judging by Riley’s reaction to the benching after the game, Kellogg’s philosophy has rubbed off on him.
“I’m comfortable with whatever role coach wants me to play in,” said Riley.
UMass now heads out to Miami to face another ACC opponent. Kellogg isn’t entirely sure how the starting five will look for that game.
“I’m not sure about that, I think we’ll reevaluate game-by-game and play-to-play of who’s starting,” said Kellogg.
Jackson Alexander can be reached at email@example.com.