During Wednesday afternoon’s practice at the Mullins Center, Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg took a seat in the stands, rather than his usual spot on the court, to observe his team.
While it was unusual, it had a purpose. With his team in the midst of a nine-day layoff from games, he wanted to measure his team’s intensity and energy – both things he believes are of utmost importance, especially after Saturday’s loss to George Washington left a bitter taste.
“That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Kellogg said of intense practices. “That’s the way I like practice to be, and honestly, I was holding them accountable for getting up under somebody’s chin and getting in their shirt and really talking ball pressure and being physical.
“Those are the things that make us. Those are things that’s the UMass identity, that at times, when we haven’t practiced, we haven’t had a chance to reaffirm it,” he said.
The Minutemen (12-5, 2-2 Atlantic 10) will get chance to avenge their recent loss when they welcome conference-foe Richmond to the Mullins Center on Sunday afternoon.
The Spiders (13-7, 3-2 A-10) are coming off a come-from-behind 86-74 overtime victory over No. 19 Virginia Commonwealth on Thursday night, one in which it trailed by seven with 36 seconds left in regulation, but rallied to force the extra session and then deliver the knockout punch.
Kellogg said Richmond is beginning to find its groove.
“They’re playing the way they play,” Kellogg said. “Their style is now implemented and the coach has it in … they’re capable.”
The player to watch on the Spiders is senior guard Darien Brothers, who leads the team in scoring with 16.2 points per game, including a career-high 39 points in a win against Charlotte last week in which he nailed eight of his 11 3-point attempts.
Brothers, who made the game-tying 3-pointer with four seconds left against VCU on Thursday despite going 5-for-16 from the field for the game, will likely receive focus from a depleted UMass guard lineup that lost defensive menace Jesse Morgan for the season to a torn ACL two weeks ago at Saint Louis.
Defense was a focus during practice for UMass this week as the Minutemen gear up for a Spiders team that requires attention from behind the 3-point line and employs a Princeton-style offense.
Before Thursday, Richmond ranked second in the A-10 and 31st in the country in 3-point field goal percentage at 38 percent, and three different Spiders that get notable minutes are shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc, including Brothers at 50.9 percent.
“They play a faster-paced Princeton-style,” Kellogg said. “They shoot it quicker, and when they’re hitting their 3s, they’re deadly because they can get it going in a hurry.”
Last year, UMass held Richmond to 4-of-24 shooting from beyond the arc en route to a 79-68 road victory.
Kellogg said a similar effort will be needed out of his team this time around, even without the services of Morgan, who exploded for a game-high 20 points and caused havoc on the defensive end in last year’s meeting.
“You just have to make it tough on them,” Kellogg said. “The least amount of wide-open 3s is the best. We’ve played them and I’ve watched them on tape where it seems like every other possession, they’re wide open for a 3. They do a lot of good cutting, they have five guys that can handle and shoot the ball, and it becomes a situation where you want to limit their open looks.”
Sunday’s tip is set for 2 p.m. at the Mullins Center.
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.