Starting a season with four games in six days is rough. Throw in a trip to Puerto Rico while playing with full court pressure for 40 minutes and that’s even rougher.
Fortunately for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, it returns to action following such a brutal opening schedule Wednesday night at Siena only after enjoying a timely 10-day layoff. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y.
During their break, the Minutemen (2-2) got some much needed rest while also working out kinks in practice that hindered them in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, which saw UMass finish fourth out of eight teams after a 1-2 showing.
Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg thought the rest came at an opportune time for his team.
“We’ve had some really good practices and we’ve also had some that haven’t been as good,” Kellogg said before practice on Monday, “and so it was good to get them out without having to play a game and I’m hopeful that we were able to alleviate some of the things that I thought hurt us … and get the guys back to being confident and playing together.”
Junior guard Jesse Morgan felt playing consecutive games in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off was a good experience for the team, especially when it comes to the Atlantic 10 tournament, which requires teams to play on short rest.
Morgan also felt the rest allowed the team to regain its focus.
“It’s always good to get your rest off the court, rest your body and refocus and focus on what you got to do for the next week or so,” Morgan said.
Up next for the Minutemen is a struggling Siena team that enters Wednesday’s matchup loser of three of its last four contests.
Senior forward O.D. Anosike, who is coming off a 20-rebound performance on Sunday in a loss at Maine, has carried the Saints (2-4) this year, grabbing an NCAA Division I-best 14.3 rebounds per game. He also leads the team in scoring with 14.7 points per game while shooting an efficient 60 percent from the field.
“The big guy is a double-double machine,” Kellogg said of Anosike. “Anytime you have a guy that can dominate the paint like that, that gives you an opportunity to win because it frees up room for their shooters.”
Sophomore center Cady Lalanne remembers playing against Anosike last year when the two teams met in Springfield.
“He just goes after the boards and grabs every rebound,” Lalanne said.
The Saints had UMass on the brink of defeat in last year’s Dec. 9 meeting, leading by as many as 10 points in the second half before then-junior guard Freddie Riley caught fire to help the Minutemen escape with an 82-78 win.
“They kind of got our attention a lot more,” Lalanne said, “but it seems like they’ve been struggling a little bit and we’ve been kind of struggling too, but hopefully over these last 10 days we cleaned everything up and learned where we need to be at as a team.”
Looking at Lalanne
Lalanne is not immune to struggles, as the 6-foot-9 big man dealt with foul trouble and poor stamina in Puerto Rico. Lalanne averaged just 4.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 18 minutes in the tournament, fouled out against Providence and nursed four fouls for the final 17 minutes of play against North Carolina State.
Kellogg is most concerned with getting Lalanne back into game shape and noted that last year it took 11 games for the young center to finally start playing hard enough to make a difference on the court.
Kellogg said Lalanne will continue to get in better shape with more practices and exposure in games, but that Lalanne must be used better in games.
“When he’s playing and he’s energized, we’re really a better team, so some of it was maybe we gotta get him in and out of the games a little bit quicker and keep him out of foul trouble,” Kellogg said.
Lalanne said that he and Kellogg are still trying to figure out how he best fits into UMass’ scheme on the court, but feels progress was made during the break.
“Coach is probably still trying to figure out where I fit in, and I’m still trying to figure out where I fit in too,” Lalanne said, “but over this last break, the practices we’ve been having, I feel like he found out a lot more where I fit in.”
Stephen Sellner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @Stephen_Sellner.