Defending beyond the arc pivotal in rematch with Explorers

By Stephen Hewitt

On Jan. 8, when the Massachusetts men’s basketball team dropped the first game of its season series with La Salle, it fell victim to a surplus of factors that ultimately doomed it defeat despite putting together a strong second-half rally.

Em Bhoo/Collegian

One might credit it to the lack of ball security, as the Minutemen turned the ball over 19 times, or even early foul trouble, as the team picked up more first half fouls than they did made field goals. But another factor that might have been overlooked was the Explorers’ efficiency from 3-point land.

La Salle shot 12-for-27 from downtown, including 10 treys in the opening 20 minutes that helped them jump to a 51-25 halftime lead that they never looked back from.

For most teams, shooting 44.4 percent in a game from long distance is merely a flash in the pan, but for the Explorers, it’s been a routine all season long.

La Salle ranks fifth in Division I in 3-point field goal percentage at 41.5 percent as of Thursday, only trailing Northern Colorado, Creighton, Indiana and Cal State Fullerton. The Explorers made a season-best 15 3-pointers in a win over Army earlier this season and have had double-digit 3-point makes on numerous other occasions.

“They’re shooting an unbelievable number for a team,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg. “Sometimes you need them to miss a few that normally they’d make.”

Ramon Galloway, Earl Pettis, Sam Mills and Tyreek Duren are all strong 3-point catalysts for the Explorers as each can fill up the box score on any given night.  With the exception of Pettis, each of them are averaging at least 42 percent for the season. Pettis shoots at a 33.6 percent clip while Galloway leads the team at 47.2 percent. They even have D.J Peterson coming off the bench shooting 45.7 percent this season.

For the Minutemen, it will be important for them to have a bounce back shooting night after a dismal 33.8 percent display at Saint Joseph’s on Saturday night.

If they can shoot better, it will allow them to set up easier on defense and cut down on La Salle’s open looks from deep. And for the most part this season, they’ve done a good job of doing that, as they have held opponents to 29.2 percent from behind the arc.

“When they really share the ball, and get in gaps and kick it to the next guy for the extra play, they’re a very tough out,” said Kellogg. “And we want to make sure we get them in the half court where they don’t get much transition and also contest their 3s.”

Proving resilient

Throughout the season, UMass has done a good job of bouncing back from losses with victories as it has yet to go on a losing streak.

“They’re resilient,” said Kellogg. “They’re guys that like to play the game and usually can put [losses] behind them in a day or so and then get ready for the next contest.”

After their last loss at La Salle in January, the Minutemen came back and notched two wins against Charlotte and Saint Joseph’s at home, where they have yet to lose a game.

In fact, for every loss it has suffered in the Atlantic 10 this season, UMass has responded with two consecutive victories.
Time will tell if that will be the case in its next two games, as the Minutemen welcome the Explorers on Saturday and Xavier on Tuesday as they aim to bounce back from their loss against Saint Joseph’s.

“When you can stay away from putting together back-to-back and even more losses in a row, I think that’s huge for a team and a program,” said Kellogg. “And luckily, the guys have bought into that and we’ve been able to avoid that a little bit this year.”

Stephen Hewitt can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Hewitt.