On the offensive end, Freddie Riley has not looked comfortable this year for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team.
But in Saturday’s game against East Carolina, he finished with a grin on his face, looking more like the Freddie Riley of old.
It looked more like the Freddie Riley that averaged 9.3 and 8 points per game in his freshman and sophomore seasons, respectively, and less like the Freddie Riley who entered Saturday solemnly averaging 2.4 points per game this season.
Prior to Saturday’s 88-81 win against the Pirates, he was just shooting 21 percent from the field, and 17 percent from 3-point range, but against ECU and a few hometown rivals, Riley put together his first solid offensive output of the year, scoring 14 points while going 4-of-7 from beyond the arc.
“It felt real good to finally shoot the ball well,” Riley laughed. “It was against a few friends from high school (so) it felt good to play well against them.”
Going up against former high school rivals, guard Miguel Paul and forward Ty Armstrong, Riley came off the bench and nearly outscored the two starters’ combined efforts, as they put up seven and eight points, respectively.
It was his effort on both ends of the floor in the second half that put the game seemingly out of reach for the Minutemen.
Up by five with 16:13 left in the second, Riley was subbed in for Raphiael Putney. The Pirates immediately scored a basket to narrow their deficit to three, but the combination of Riley, Chaz Williams, Jesse Morgan, Cady Lalanne and Maxie Esho went on a tear, scoring 16 straight points in about three and a half minutes.
Riley scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half, and shot 3-of-4 from 3-point territory while collecting a pair of rebounds and assists.
It was the second straight year that he has put up 14 points against ECU. Last year on Dec. 6 when the teams met, Riley’s 14-point scoring output kicked off a stretch of games in which he hit the double-digit scoring mark in four out of six games. Since then, before Saturday afternoon, he had only scored 10 or more points twice over the course of 27 regular season games, and prior to Saturday, his season-high had been five.
UMass coach Derek Kellogg was ecstatic about Riley’s play against ECU, but was most fond of his defense.
“He really was locked in,” Kellogg said. “His attitude’s been great this year, he’s really bought into the team concept: he’s playing defense. And when you start worrying about (defense) instead of worrying about scoring, you score, so it was nice to see Freddie put together a good game for us.”
After a late rally by the Pirates brought them to within four with less than two minutes to play, Riley pulled down a critical defensive rebound in traffic under the basket. He then took it up the floor before passing off to Terrell Vinson, who laid the ball in for his 999th career point, as the Minutemen regained a more comfortable lead.
But what really got fans riled up at the Mullins Center was his shooting. The groans that were usually synonymous with Riley’s wild misses from long range turned into increasing confidence as he kept lining up to shoot.
Riley, who like Kellogg said, has been working intensively on his defense, said he at last felt rewarded offensively as he saw his shots finally falling.
“It’s definitely a bonus,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been getting some more playing time because of my defense more than (because of) my offense, so it felt good for my offense to finally come.”
After a short holiday break to Marion County, Fla., Riley and the Minutemen will be back in action on Dec. 29 to face Northern Illinois to kick off a two-game road trip.
Taylor Snow can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @taylorcsnow.