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UMass men’s basketball’s frontcourt looks to build on solid start to season

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian)

Massachusetts men’s basketball forward Malik Hines is happy with UMass’ start to this season winning four of its first five games, but knows there’s still plenty of room for improvement moving forward.

“It’s a pretty good feeling, but there’s always room for improvement,” Hines said of the start. “We can always do better as a team.”

The Minutemen (4-1) enter Wednesday’s game against Wagner winners of their last with victories over Temple, Holy Cross and Harvard. Had it not been for a poor shooting exhibition down the stretch in their 90-88 loss against Mississippi Nov. 14, UMass could be looking a perfect 5-0 record.

But despite the hot start the Minutemen have gotten off to, they still feel like there’s still plenty to work on, a good indication of a talented yet young team as it progresses through nonconference play.

“This is a young team and we are grinding out games, but at the end of the day you just have to take it one game at a time,” Hines said. “Days like [Monday] when we have practice we’ll go in and cover all the things we need to cover and just get better.”

“I feel like we have a lot to do,” added center Rashaan Holloway. “It’s all going to come through, it’s just playing the games and seeing where we are at. I feel like our defense has gotten a little bit better, we’re cleaning a lot of stuff up. I feel like we are playing well.”

As well as UMass has played up until this point, Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg still feels they could still play at a faster tempo while also improving some of its defensive principles.

UMass’ guards have carried it through the first five games of the season with Donte Clark (17.6 points per game), DeJon Jarreau (12.), Zach Lewis (11.8) and Luwane Pipkins (11.4) all sitting atop the scoring leaders.

Holloway currently leads the Minutemen’s frontcourt with 10.4 PPG and is tired for a team-high in rebounds per game with 6.4 with Clark.

Hines scored a season-high seven points against the Crimson, and has looked much more comfortable with his offensive game – sporting a newly refined hook shot – along with Holloway.

“All my moves right now are just moves that I’ve had. I’m starting to get in there and work on more skill and my skillsets now that I’m physically in shape and I’m not going to be as tired as I’m on the court doing things,” Holloway said, who’s now down to 310 pounds. “But I feel like when I’m on the court all I have to do is work my guy out and just play and put the ball in the hoop.”

“Yeah, that’s something that I’ve been confident in,” Hines said of his offensive game. “For me, that’s just checking a role. And if that’s scoring, then yeah, I’m going to do that. It’s all for the team. Whatever makes the team better, we just have to all realized that in the end of the day we’re all in this together – we need each other and we need everyone on board.”

Size will be an advantage come Wednesday against the Seahawks (2-3), who don’t have anyone on its roster over 6-foot-8. Redshirt senior forward Mike Aaman is Wagner’s biggest threat averaging 10 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

Along with Holloway and Hines, UMass could see freshman Brison Gresham play his first minutes of the season, after he was cleared by the NCAA Tuesday evening. Freshmen forward Ty Flowers (9.8) and Chris Baldwin (8.6) both average under 10 minutes per game, and are each looking to solidify themselves into Kellogg’s rotation.

Andrew Cyr can be reached at arcyr@umass.edu, and followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.

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