MEN’S BASKETBALL: Gaffney quiets all doubters

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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P.J. Stanley/Collegian

There is no more doubting Tony Gaffney.

After averaging 3.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game last season off the bench, Gaffney’s reliability as a strong low-post presence was a question mark entering this season.

Question answered.

But with six consecutive losses, the new-look Massachusetts men’s basketball team has more questions now than it did entering the 2008-09 season.

Gaffney, one of three UMass senior captains, remains confident that the Minutemen are close to turning things around.

“We know what we’re capable of doing. Obviously everyone is doubting us right now but as a team we’ve stuck together this whole time and we know what we’re capable of,” Gaffney said after Saturday night’s overtime loss to Boston College. “We knew we would be in this game at the end, so I wouldn’t say we’re more confident now, just more hungry I think you could say.”

First-year coach Derek Kellogg saw signs of major improvement with his team in the tough loss to the Eagles.

“There were a ton of good things out there,” he said after the game, referring mostly to Ricky Harris’ 35 points and Gaffney’s effort. “I think they’re getting closer to realize how hard you have to play to win – that you have to do all the little things down the stretch to win.”

“I thought they played the way they wanted to play, and I think that’s important,” Boston College coach and former UMass basketball star Al Skinner said. “[Kellogg] obviously has their attention and it seems like the guys are saying the right things, hanging in there, sticking together. It looks like they’re definitely headed in the right direction.”

Shifting focus

After the game Kellogg stressed the importance of getting his team concentrated and ready for Atlantic 10 Conference play, which begins on Jan. 10, 2009.

“We’re shooting for the A-10 season, we’re shooting for the A-10 tournament – that’s what I keep telling our guys,” Kellogg said. “When the Atlantic 10 season comes around, I don’t want anybody in that league to think that we’re some patsies, that we’re an easy game.

“I want them to say, ‘Oh no, here comes UMass – they’re going to grind you out for 40 minutes on defense, they’re going to try to jam it down your throat in transition on offense, and if it’s not there they’re going to move that ball freely from hand-to-hand and attack.’

“I think tonight was a great step towards that goal,” he continued. “I think everybody in that arena tonight left saying, ‘You know what? This team made strides; these guys are fighting and scrapping for everything.'”

Flashing a glimpse

Anthony Gurley’s transfer to UMass before last season brought high expectations. The former Wake Forest guard played almost 15 minutes per game for the Demon Deacons during the 2006-07 season, squaring off against the likes of Duke and North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

After sitting out last season at UMass, Gurley was expected be a major scoring threat to help out Harris and help negate the loss of Gary Forbes and Etienne Brower. Up until Saturday’s game, Gurley wasn’t living up to that expectation.

It can be difficult to get back into playing shape after a year on the sidelines, but Gurley feels he’s coming around – especially after a 17-point performance against BC.

“I try to go out there and play as hard as I can for as long as I can,” he said. “I just give the team all I have; I guess we just came up a little short [against BC].”

Building confidence

As a freshman last season, Matt Glass played 6.8 minutes per game. And for about 6.8 minutes per game, you could find Glass standing in the corner waiting for the ball to launch a 3-pointer.

He doesn’t have that luxury this season. With injuries to big-men Luke Bonner and Matt Hill (out for season), Glass has seen his playing time – and role – drastically change.

The 6-foot-6 sophomore has seen increased minutes (13.7 per game; 32 against BC) in the paint, with the Minutemen needing some size in the middle. It hasn’t been an easy transition, but Kellogg has seen improvement.

“He’s been thrown into the fire a little bit, and he’s responded fairly well,” Kellogg said. “This has been a learning experience for him and wow he’s settled into a little comfort zone.”

Glass had three points and four rebounds against the Eagles.

Preaching from the bench

Kellogg has mentioned several times this season how his team struggles defensively when he can’t direct them on the sidelines.

“I love having the defense in front of our bench, because those guys are still learning how I want to play defense at UMass – so when it’s in front of the bench we can help them through some things,” he said. “When they go on the other end it’s on them a little bit. So I’m trying to get them to communicate more.”

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]