SPRINGFIELD – On paper, the idea of starting Sampson Carter at center instead of Cady Lalanne seems silly.
Carter is listed at 6-foot-8, 220 pounds, while Lalanne is listed at 6-foot-9, 250 pounds, and before the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s Dec. 4 game at Northeastern, Carter, who normally plays the role of a swing forward, had never started at center.
So with all things considered, conventional wisdom would seem to suggest that starting Lalanne, who started the team’s first six games at center, would make the most sense.
But that’s not how things have exactly turned out.
When Lalanne was suspended two weekends ago in connection to an on-campus arrest, Carter was suddenly thrust into the starting center role in the Minutemen’s next game against the Huskies. And despite never starting there, the junior seemed comfortable in the role as he scored 13 points and logged six rebounds in 34 minutes.
In Saturday’s win against Elon, Lalanne was back from his suspension, but it was Carter who resumed his role as the team’s starting center. And while Lalanne logged quality minutes off the bench, it was Carter who did little to give reason why he should be removed from his starting position as he finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds in 32 minutes.
“He’s played well,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said of Carter. “I think he needed more minutes. He’s always been a kid who’s been productive in a certain amount of time, and with him being a little more ready than say, the young guys to start and then be that secondary big guy, he’s had an opportunity to get more minutes whether it’s on the wing or on the inside.
“When you’re producing 13 and 11 in 32 minutes, I think that’s a pretty good stat line.”
Whether Carter will remain the team’s starting center going into Wednesday night’s contest against Ohio remains to be seen, but Lalanne didn’t do much either to hurt his stock.
In 12 minutes, Lalanne scored six points and corralled six rebounds, including three points and five rebounds in limited time during the second half.
“I thought Cady played better in the second half,” Kellogg said. “I thought he played very well in the second half. In the first half, I thought he was just average, I didn’t think he did much.”
Against Northeastern, UMass guard Jesse Morgan appeared to have had broken out of a shooting slump when he hit four 3-pointers down the stretch to help the Minutemen to victory.
But against Elon, it looked like the 11-day off between the games cracked any of that momentum and did more harm than good for the junior, who finished with just three points on 1-of-9 shooting, including going 0-for-4 from 3-point range.
Kellogg wasn’t worried about him despite his offensive struggles.
“The one thing he did today is he played pretty good defense, but he struggled offensively,” Kellogg said. “If he will just concentrate on his defense, I think he’ll continue to make big plays at least.
“I just tell him to worry about his defense and his offense will come around.”
Williams banged up
UMass point guard Chaz Williams tallied another strong performance Saturday with 20 points and nine assists, but he will more than likely have a handful of bumps and bruises to show for it as well.
The junior, playing in his usual frantic pace, hit the hardwood multiple times on drives to the basket throughout the game. At one point in the first half, he hit the floor hard on the offensive end and limped down the court with obvious discomfort in his lower back. In the second half, he was also spotted getting one of his wrists taped.
Despite playing through any kind of pain, Williams said it didn’t have any effect on his play.
“I’m not big on making excuses,” Williams said.
Backup freshman point guard Trey Davis played four minutes in the first half to give Williams rest. While he didn’t produce any numbers in his limited duty, Davis’ minutes will likely become even more valuable as the season wears on and Williams continues to play his style in the amount of time he plays per game.
“He’s very beat up,” Kellogg said of Williams. He’s playing over 40 minutes a game, and even in practice he now has to go against Derrick Gordon. Derrick Gordon is one of the tougher players I’ve seen as far as defensively getting up on you. I think it’s made him better because the other teams now are really concentrating on Chaz.
“For him to put up the stat lines he’s been putting up I think is a testament to his character, his toughness and him as a basketball player. He had six assists at halftime; he could have had 10 if a guy would have made a shot.”
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.