With almost half of the Atlantic 10 season in the books for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, one thing has become evident; it’s a different team with Raphiael Putney on the court. Last Saturday, the 6-foot-9 forward managed to stay out of foul trouble and played a season-high 36 minutes in the Minutemen’s 72-59 win over the Billikens. He also recorded his third double-double in seven games, with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
His performance earned him Co-A-10 men’s basketball Player of the Week honors on Monday.
Putney was brilliant on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court versus SLU. He abstained from attempting miraculous blocks and rarely drove in too deep to the paint, instead selecting to shoot mid-range shots or floaters.
However, this smart play offensively and defensively has been absent for parts of the season. As good as he can be, he’s been prone to mental mistakes.
Putney often gets posted up by stronger players and has the propensity to commit soft fouls, something UMass coach Derek Kellogg doesn’t want to see.
“Instead of taking those weak ticky-tacky fouls, he’s got to make sure it’s a tough hard nose play,” said Kellogg.
Considering his recent breakout and his offensive efficiency (49.4 percent shooting), Putney averages just 22.6 minutes per game, the least among starters, despite being the second leading scorer on the team.
One can easily chalk his lack of minutes up to his constant foul trouble.
Putney has committed the third most fouls on the team, despite not playing huge minutes, and has fouled out three times this year, tied with freshman Maxie Esho for the most on the squad.
It’s not only Putney who has struggled with his foul trouble. The Minutemen also have struggled with fouls whenever Putney resorts to the role of spectator after his foul issues.
“I think there’s a correlation between us struggling sometimes against teams in our conference and him not being on the floor,” said Kellogg.
In four of its five defeats, Putney struggled to stay on the floor because of foul trouble, accumulating at least four fouls in each of those losses.
He’s also had to sit out large chunks of the first half on multiple occasions after picking up two fouls early in contests.
Lately, Putney’s experienced a handful of highs and lows in conference play. He played wonderfully in back-to-back wins versus Charlotte and Saint Joseph’s. The sophomore had just two fouls between the games, while averaging 18 points, 8.5 rebounds and 34.5 minutes per game over the two-game stretch.
However, he followed with disappointing showings against Richmond and Duquesne during UMass’ next two games. Putney fouled out against the Spiders and committed four fouls versus the Dukes and averaged just 4.5 points and 19 minutes per game against the two A-10 foes.
While Kellogg agreed that foul trouble factors into Putney’s lack of minutes, he also attributes that to his conditioning, which he hopes improves next season.
“Right now I think he can play as good as he’s capable of for 18-20 minutes a game, and then the other minutes he’s just kind of out there,” said Kellogg.
Kellogg noted the significant progress Putney has made from last season to this year in terms of his strength. He hopes that the progression will carry into next season.
It seems it’s easy for viewers to try to critique a player like Putney because his potential is so evident. He’s shown some flashes of brilliance on offense, including arguably the Minutemen’s top play of the season when he threw down a thunderous dunk at the Mullins Center over winter break that cracked SportsCenter’s Top 10.
When Putney is not fouling on the defensive end, he’s usually making a spectacular block, picking an opponent’s pocket or pulling down a rebound with his unbelievably long arms.
“His defensive rebounding, his steals and blocked shots are really what I think makes us a better team,” said Kellogg.
He leads the team on the season with 26 blocks and 92 defensive rebounds.
“I think he’s just scratching the surface,” said Kellogg. “Some of it’s going to come with maturity, some of it’s going to come with added weight and like a lot of college kids, just figuring out the game.”
For now, people may over-analyze his flaws and point out what he should be doing better. But the fact of the matter is if Putney puts everything together soon, then his critics will have nothing to complain about.
Jackson Alexander can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @MDC_Alexander.