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UMass men’s basketball’s bench continues to play a major role in team’s success

Jediah Zuraw-Friedland/Collegian

Jediah Zuraw-Friedland/Collegian

Looking back at the 2015-16 Massachusetts men’s basketball team, something clearly stands out: The lack of depth on the Minutemen’s bench.

For most of the season, UMass (6-3) coach Derek Kellogg used a seven or eight-man rotation and this played a major role in the team running out of gas and struggling toward the end of the season. The team had a top-heavy nature led by the scoring prowess of former players Trey Davis and Jabarie Hinds, along with current junior guard Donte Clark.

This year’s incarnation of the Minutemen is a completely different story.

UMass had found success up and down its roster with most players who touch the court having an effect on the game.

Behind the usual starting five of Rashaan Holloway, Seth Berger, DeJon Jarreau, Luwane Pipkins and Clark, the Minutemen have had major contributions from players like Zach Lewis, C.J. Anderson and Malik Hines, among others.

Kellogg doesn’t like getting into the distinction between starters and bench players, rather he is just happy to have a group filled with depth and how everyone can have a major effect on the game.

“Pitting the starters against the bench is kind of difficult to me. We’ve got a bunch of guys that are out there competing,” Kellogg said. “It’s ironic that at some times some guys coming off the bench have played better. It goes to the testament that we have a pretty good, deep team.”

The addition of five freshmen to the rotation has been big for UMass in the early stretch of the season. Three of those freshman, Chris Baldwin, Ty Flowers and Brison Gresham, have come solely off the bench this season and added on to the contributions of guys like Lewis, Hines and Anderson, have made a major impact.

“It’s just a whole different dynamic than last year with the amount of guys we have and the number of guys contributing,” Kellogg said. “The guys are eager to play more minutes. Maybe we have the best 12 guys in whatever, but you can only put five on the floor at a time, so those five have to play and compete at a high level and compete.”

Anderson has played mainly off the bench throughout his three years playing for the Minutemen. Of his 70 games played, he came off the bench in 59 of them.

The junior enjoys the opportunity to come off the bench for UMass and sees it as a challenge.

“I try to increase the tempo when we get out there and have our chance,” Anderson said. “Sometimes that’s the best thing for you to do when you come off the bench. We’ve got a great group that comes off the bench, so that really helps us.”

“When you come into the game you have a task and you’re focused on doing it and getting into the flow of the game,” Hines added.

Coming into the game off the bench, it can be hard to get into the flow of the game after sitting on the sideline, especially because most players aren’t used to that role coming out of high school.

“I think that’s hard for any college player,” Anderson said. “You come from high school when you’ve never been taken off the court. You’ve always been starting your whole life. Honestly you just stay focused on what you need to do for the team to win.”

Kellogg believes that team having so much depth will make it harder for teams to game plan for the Minutemen as the season goes on.

“We’ve scouted some teams that have played 11 or 12 guys and that’s a pain,” Kellogg said. “By the time you are done going through their personnel and their plays, you’re exhausted, so I hope so. My hope is that halfway through conference play, we aren’t exhausted and tired from the grind of the year and that the guys are somewhat fresh and waiting for their opportunity.”

UMass will look to use the added depth it has this season as the Minutemen prepare to take on North Carolina A&T (1-7) Tuesday night at the Mullins Center.

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

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