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UMass men’s basketball takes three-game winning streak into Wagner game Wednesday

Rashaan Holloway (45) cheers as UMass defeats Temple in the final seconds of the game. Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian

Rashaan Holloway (45) cheers as UMass defeats Temple in the final seconds of the game. (Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian)

For the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, its four wins through the first five games of the season haven’t been pretty, but they’ve been enough.

UMass (4-1) has won three of its four victories by less than 10 points and two of those games, Temple and Harvard, saw the Minutemen going down to the wire in the last minute to clinch the victory.

UMass coach Derek Kellogg is happy with the team’s start, but knows it has a long way to go to reach the potential he sees in them.

“I’m happy we showed enough grit and toughness to come away with a victory in a game that could have gone either way,” Kellogg said about the 70-66 win over the Crimson after Monday’s practice. “There’s still a lot that we need to work on. We’re getting a little better defensively. Offensively, we’re not playing at a pace that I’d like to play at quite yet, but I think we can work at that and continue to get better.”

The Minutemen will look to make those necessary adjustments as they prepare to take on Wagner (2-3) Wednesday night at Mullins Center.

The Seahawks come into Wednesday’s matchup after a nail-biting three-point loss to Rider last Saturday. Wagner pulled off an upset during its first game of the season against Connecticut, topping the Huskies 67-58 in Storrs, Conn. Nov. 11.

Kellogg knows a win over a well-established program like UConn has given the Seahawks confidence early in the season.

“They’re a good team. I think that gives them the most confidence,” Kellogg said. “A win against a team like UConn, coincided with they’re supposed to win their conference and be one of those squads. They play a style that lends them to be in a lot of games.”

Wagner doesn’t have any specific one player that will take over games offensively. It instead goes for a more balanced approach to put the ball in the basket. The Seahawks have five players averaging double-digit points through the first five games of the season.

Their top scorer against the Huskies, Romone Saunders, who scored 15 points in that game, broke his foot and has missed the past four games. Of the players who have seen consistent playing time, they are led by junior guard Corey Henson, who averages 14.8 points per game. Henson is followed by Michael Carey (13.8), JoJo Cooper (11.0) and Mike Aaman (10.0).

“With our personnel, we try to pick each guy’s tendencies. Let them know where they score from,” Kellogg said. “When you play a balanced team, it’s like every guy has to defend at every position. There’s not one guy you can kind of slough off and not cover. I think that’s what makes those teams the most dangerous. On any given night, if you average 10, you can go for 20.”

“We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” junior guard Donte Clark added. “Our defense has been pretty good. We just need to do a better job rebounding after we get stops and take care of the ball.”

UMass received some tough news when it was announced freshman guard DeJon Jarreau would miss four to six weeks with a stress fracture in his foot. Jarreau was averaging 12 points per game before the injury and the Minutemen will need to fill that void during his absence.

Clark has stepped up his offensive game with Jarreau out, scoring 18 and 29 points, respectively in UMass’ last two games. He will need to continue his hot play if the Minutemen want to find success with its starting point guard out.

“I guess I’ve just had to take the shots that [Jarreau] would take in a game and add them to mine. I just try to play the game the same way,” Clark said about his recent offensive surge. “If the shots come, they come. We’ve got guys who don’t score a lot on our team that can put up points.”

Staying on the injury front, forward Chris Baldwin broke his nose during the Minutemen’s game against Harvard. He will be available to play Wednesday, but will wear a protective mask.

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at Mullins Center Wednesday. 

Adam Aucoin can be reached at aaucoin@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @aaucoin34.

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