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April 30, 2016

UMass men’s basketball heads to Eastern Michigan after eight-day layoff

Nicole Evangelista/Daily Collegain

It’s been eight days since the Massachusetts men’s basketball team last played a game.

And while everything has been smooth sailing for UMass to start the season, it must now prepare for its first true road test of the year when it takes on Eastern Michigan on Tuesday night. On top of that, the Minutemen (6-0) must try to shake off the rust that goes along with an extended layoff.

“They all came back (from the break) a little sluggish,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said to reporters. “I’ve been trying to get them back into playing the way we’re supposed to play with the energy we’re supposed to play.”

Redshirt sophomore Derrick Gordon was quick to agree with his coach’s observation.

“We all noticed it the first day of practice, how sluggish we were,” he said. “Most of us went home and we were off our feet for three to four days. But we’re getting back into it.”

The team took the opportunity to go home for the Thanksgiving break, spending time with friends and family. But UMass is looking forward to getting back to action and continuing the impressive start to the season.

“It gave me time to rest my body, rest my back and my knee,” Cady Lalanne said. “And it feels pretty good getting back into action now. I couldn’t wait to get back to practice, and I know a lot of guys on the team feel the same way. I can’t wait to play again.”

However, UMass won’t ease back into action. It is preparing for its first road game of the season, going up against a tough Eagles (5-1) team. Eastern Michigan opened the season with five straight wins before losing to Kentucky 81-63 on Nov. 27.

The Eagles don’t have the same marquee wins as the Minutemen, but have been impressive in their victories. Three of their five wins have been by at least 12 points and have been composed late in close games.

In order for UMass to pick up where it left off at the Charleston Classic, it needs to do what it does best — play with energy.

When the Minutemen play with energy, they’ve proven to be one of the toughest teams in the country to play against. In its upset victory over then-No. 19 New Mexico, UMass used a 16-0 run to pull away late, getting out and running on offense, while pressuring the Lobos into taking ill-advised 3-pointers.

Energy will once again be the key for the Minutemen Tuesday night. Eastern Michigan only averages 76.5 points per game, while only shooting about 46 percent from the floor, meaning that a fast-paced game from UMass will pressure the Eagles into taking tough shots and making them uncomfortable.

“We’re an energy team and if we play with energy, good things happen,” Kellogg said. “We may not always make the right pass, the right shot or the right play, but if we bring energy and play with some toughness, we have a chance.”

Tuesday will also be the first of four games that the Minutemen will play this season against Mid-American Conference opponents. This is part of the agreement the school made with the NCAA when the football team moved to the MAC as members of the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2012.

Patrick Strohecker can be reached at pstrohec@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @P_Strohecker.

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