September 16, 2014

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Week off recharges UMass men’s hoops for final push of regular season

Cade Belisle/Collegian

Before the start of the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s practice on Wednesday, a game of two-on-two broke out on the Mullins Center floor.

It was Chaz Williams and Sampson Carter taking on Trey Davis and Raphiael Putney in a casual contest between teammates, as neither side was going at 100 percent.

Williams was seen posting up Davis, while Putney was contending Carter’s 3-point attempts.

There was no pressure, simply basketball.

That’s what happens when a team breaks a three-game losing streak with a double-digit victory and has a week off to rest before its next affair.

A weight was lifted off the shoulders of the Minutemen.

“It got us a chance to build our confidence and not have us wait and have a hard seven days of practice,” Williams said before practice on Wednesday. “The guys, mentally, would be drained (if) we just came off a loss. It’s great going into a seven-day break with a “W.”

The once-glooming burden of plummeting in the Atlantic 10 standings has been lifted – if only just for now – as UMass (17-9, 7-6 A-10) got back in the win column after powering past Dayton, 77-66, last Saturday at the Mullins Center. The Minutemen are currently tied for seventh in the conference with Richmond, but hold the tie breaker thanks to UMass’ win over the Spiders on Jan. 27.

The Minutemen were in ninth place heading into its tip-off against the Flyers after free-falling from fourth place due to its three-game skid.

UMass coach Derek Kellogg felt last Saturday’s win took a great deal of pressure off his squad heading into its trip to sixth-place Xavier on Saturday afternoon. He knows his team still needs to have a sense of urgency, but the magnitude of the game isn’t as large as it would’ve been had the Minutemen come up short against the Flyers.

“I think everybody, from the players, to the fans, to the coaching staff, needed a win just to get a little relief,” Kellogg said.

The week of rest also serves as UMass’ last tune-up before it heads into its final stretch of the regular season with three games in seven days, including its final two in a three-day period.

Williams feels the rest is especially helpful for the Minutemen, who only suit up nine players on gameday.

Kellogg, along with Williams, also feels the break allows the players to heal before its final push for a higher seed in the conference tournament. UMass is still within striking distance of a first round bye, only two games behind Butler and La Salle for third and fourth place, respectively. The Minutemen hold the tiebreaker with the Explorers, and tips off with Butler next Thursday at the Mullins Center.

Kellogg said the team didn’t practice on Sunday, watched film and lifted on Monday, and switched Tuesday’s scheduled practice to individual work.

“Guys are banged up a little bit, (and) the average fan doesn’t know what goes on in the training room,” Kellogg said.

Kellogg highlighted Terrell Vinson as a player that particularly needed the rest, who has been suffering from a lingering ankle injury that Kellogg attributed to the toll the season can take on players. Kellogg said the injury won’t be a factor in Vinson’s playing time on Saturday.

But Williams feels the break doesn’t just benefit the team physically, but also mentally.

“It’s given us a chance to relax and heal our body also, but also get our minds mentally ready and just get after it, and come to practice every day,” he said. “We learn new things and learn from our mistakes.”

Stephen Sellner can be reached at ssellner@student.umass.edu and followed on Twitter @Stephen_Sellner.

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