September 2, 2014

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Consistent guard play pacing UMass basketball down the stretch

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

At the beginning of the season, Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg proposed the idea of using three guards at once in specific situations.

Now, coming off back-to-back wins over George Washington and Virginia Commonwealth, UMass sits in third place in the Atlantic 10 thanks in part to that very same lineup, making Kellogg’s three-guard system seem more genius than mad-scientist.

The triple-threat combination of Chaz Williams, Derrick Gordon and Trey Davis in the backcourt has given the Minutemen consistent performances in the last month.

“It’s been a good maturation process for those guys and it’s kind of what you envision as a coach when you’re trying to keep a program going, not just for one year, but for years to come,” Kellogg said.

At the start of the season, it was always a question about how well the three guards would play with each other while sharing the floor. But as the season progressed and UMass continued to win games against stiff competition, the question switched from, “Will they work well together?” to, “How high is the ceiling for these three?”

The three have different styles of play, but they complement each other more than they interfere with the flow of the game.

“(Teams) are connecting to Chaz,” Kellogg said. “Trey can do his thing and if it isn’t there, then he can hit Derrick Gordon, get out of the way and let Derrick Gordon make a play. … They have the freedom to go make a play.”

Williams, Gordon and Davis were the three leading scorers for the Minutemen in their latest win over VCU last Friday, combining for 49 points, eight assists and eight steals.

Individually, the three bring their own different strength and style to the game. Williams has the ability to make a play out of any situation, Davis is a pure shooter who can knock down a 3-pointer at any time and Gordon is a defensive specialist who likes to attack the basket.

Put them all on the floor at once and it’s an opposing team’s nightmare to match up defensively.

“You add extra ball-handlers and it’s just great because we can spread the ball out a lot more and other guys can make plays,” Williams said.

The reemergence of Gordon as a scoring threat has added to the high level of play in the backcourt for UMass. To begin the season, he struggled to find his shot, missing easy floaters close to the basket. But over the course of the last month, Gordon has become the Minutemen’s second-best scoring option thanks to a renewed confidence.

“I’m just not putting a lot of pressure on myself,” he said. “I talked to (Kellogg) a lot about that and he said, ‘Just be yourself and go out there and do what you know how to do,’ so that’s what I’ve been doing and it’s been paying off.”

But maybe the biggest surprise in how well the three-guard combination has worked so far this season has come from the play of Davis.

Davis’ role was virtually unknown entering the season, but he’s proven his worth so far. He’s the most consistent 3-point shooter on the team and he’s displaying the maturity that he gained in his first year and over the summer in his play as a sophomore.

“I really learned over the summer and I like to listen,” he said. “I listened to what people were telling me and I think just not turning the ball over and being able to score is really helping me.”

With an A-10 Championship well in reach and the Minutemen’s first NCAA Tournament berth in 16 years becoming more and more of a reality, the play of Williams, Gordon and Davis is going to be crucial in how far this team goes.

“The three of us is going to be the main reason why we win games,” Gordon said.

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

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