Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg isn’t complaining about the way his team has been pulling out last-second wins, but he’s not satisfied either.
Each of the Minutemen’s (3-2) wins so far has ended with go-ahead baskets in their final possession, including Wednesday night’s 64-63 triumph over Siena. But while Kellogg likes to win, he’d also like it if his team could do so in a more comfortable fashion.
“One thing I think we need to do is just play a little better throughout,” Kellogg said. “I’m not concerned but I’m also waiting for the guys to put together a full game the way we’re playing UMass basketball for a full 40 minutes. I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet. We’ve done anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes, but not a full 40.”
UMass will finally try to put together that full game on Saturday afternoon, when it returns home to the Mullins Center for the first time since its season opener on Nov. 13 to take on a rising Miami (Fla.) team that is rolling as of late.
The Hurricanes (4-1) are fresh off a convincing 67-59 upset victory over No. 13 Michigan State on Wednesday night, and are winners of three straight. While they aren’t ranked, Kellogg considers them to be a top-15 talent-level team.
“They’re a really well-rounded team,” Kellogg said. “If they were to have their whole team eligible for the whole season, they probably wouldn’t have lost one game and they’d be in the top 15 right now. So, they’re pretty close to a top 15 or top 10 team at this point, so that’s probably the biggest indication of where they are as a team and a program.”
The ineligibility issues that Kellogg was alluding to refer to the status of senior guard Durand Scott, who missed Miami’s first three games of the season. Scott was suspended for six games beginning at the end of last season after he was ruled ineligible for accepting illegal benefits, and the suspension carried over into this season.
When he’s on the floor, Scott is clearly one of the Hurricanes’ top threats. He was the team’s leading scorer a season ago, and since returning to action on Saturday, has scored 15 points in each of the two games he’s played in.
Joining Scott is an experienced Miami team that has returned its core from a season ago. Sophomore guard Shane Larkin leads the team with 16.8 points per game, while four others – Scott, Trey McKinney Jones, Reggie Johnson and Kenny Kadji – are averaging double figures in scoring.
For UMass, Kellogg is hoping to get some better results from both Raphiael Putney and Cady Lalanne. Putney, who finished second in scoring last season, has been plagued with serious foul trouble as of late, which has limited his production and aggressiveness. He enters Saturday’s contest averaging 7.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and only 25.4 minutes per game.
Lalanne, on the other hand, who has been tasked to fill the inside void of departed center Sean Carter, has averaged only 5.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 20.6 minutes per game so far this season as he continues to work his way back to 100 percent following offseason foot surgery. On Wednesday, he logged just 17 minutes, three points and two rebounds.
“If we’re really going to play at the level that I would like to play at, I think Putney and Cady have to do what I think they can do,” Kellogg said. “And if they’re not ready to do that yet, then we’re going to have to patchwork things until they get their games at the level they can play at.”
Saturday’s meeting will be the fourth-ever between the two schools. The Minutemen have lost all three meetings, including an 83-75 loss in Miami last season, which they’ll draw from in preparation.
“We can’t have any lackadaisical plays or times where guys are taking plays off,” Kellogg said. “We have to make every shot and every defensive effort count, and if you can’t do that, those teams can get away from you and are tough to come back from. We have to have a good start and make sure we’re ready to play from the jump.”
Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at the Mullins Center.
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.