Improved defense crucial in win over Aggies

By Herb Scribner

Since the opening of the season, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team has found its way to victory through gigantic offensive pushes.

On Saturday night against New Mexico State at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, the Minutemen relied on their defense to win the game.

“I told them be physical, be tough and play defense,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg told his team before the game. “Get up, deny [NMSU] the ball, make it harder on them. Don’t let them go where they want to go on the offensive side of the floor.”

Even Aggies coach Marvin Menzies had high praise for the Minutemen defense, which frazzled the NMSU players in the first half.

“We tried to deal with it man-on-man,” Menzies said. “They got in our heads and tried to deal with it man-on-man, rather than using our system.”

While forward Terrell Vinson (six points, three rebounds) didn’t provide too much defensive pressure in the game, he praised Kellogg for his continued effort to push UMass to play better defensively.

“He always preaches defense the whole time we’ve been here, so we played defense,” Vinson said.

Guard Anthony Gurley sang a similar tune regarding Kellogg’s call for increased defense and how the team applied it against the Aggies.

“The first two games we came out kind of flat,” Gurley said. “We’ve been working really hard, and coach has been preaching defense. We came out really independent and rebounded the basketball today.”

Gurley also spoke highly of the Minutemen defense and how they followed the game plan laid out before the meeting.

“We had a very good game plan,” Gurley said. “We tried to play them to their weakness[es]. We had to come in and shut down [Troy] Gillenwater, and I think we did a very good job of that, making him take tough shots and make the game difficult for him.”

UMass held NMSU’s top-scorer Gillenwater to 13 points in his 34 minutes of play.

In total on the evening, the Minutemen earned 14 turnovers, which included UMass steals.

Daryl Traynham earned himself a pair of steals in the first half, which included a point where the young Maryland-native dove in between an Aggies player’s legs to grasp the ball. Additionally, Traynham made dives to the floor and scrapped for the ball whenever he saw an opening.

In terms of rebounding, the Minutemen netted 15, with 12 of them coming on the defensive end. The game ended in a deadlock ,however, as the Aggies and Minutemen both finished with 32 boards.

UMass held its opponent to nine points through the first 13 minutes of the game, with the defensive pressure heightened significantly compared to past games.

Kellogg told his players before the game to act tough defensively and deny NSMU the baskets it was looking for, including controlling paint.

“They never took the command of the paint, which I was nervous about,” Kellogg said.

Kellogg started Hashim Bailey at center to provide some size for the Minutemen. Bailey started out strong for UMass, though he found himself in foul trouble early on and was subbed out. His replacement, Sean Carter, earned heavy praise from Kellogg for his efforts.

“Big City did a good job to get us going,” Kellogg said. “Sean Carter played like a man out there, he played tough and physical and kind of not like he’s been playing. He really came out and gave a good effort.”

With less than two minutes remaining in the first half, the Minutemen struggled to obtain rebounds off Aggie shots. However, the defense kicked itself up a notch and regained possession.

The second half revealed a less dominant defensive front in the opening minutes. The Aggies earned nine points in about four minutes, including a 3-pointer from Tyrone Watson. A similar situation occurred with six minutes, 13 seconds remaining, as Gordo Castillo nailed a 3-pointer off sloppy defense from the Minutemen.

Even though the UMass defense showed improvement, Kellogg does not see this as any completion of the squad’s goals.

“There is so much focus, but I have to continue to stay on them,” Kellogg said.

Herb Scribner can be reached at [email protected]