UMass basketball takes on Harvard in season opener

By Stephen Hewitt

Maria Uminski/Collegian

Chaz Williams admitted he hasn’t been able to sleep much in the last few days.

Aside from watching some basketball games on television over the weekend, the Massachusetts men’s basketball point guard can’t stop thinking about his team’s season opener on Tuesday. It’s been a long offseason working towards getting another crack at a deep run ever since the team was eliminated from the National Invitation Tournament semifinals in March.

So while Tuesday morning’s season-opening tip-off at 10 a.m. against Harvard may seem too early to some, it couldn’t come at a better time for Williams, who doesn’t want to waste any time in getting this highly-anticipated season started.

“(I want to) get right up, wake right up, get right into the game mode and get my mind right,” Williams said.

Williams and his teammates will do just that when the Minutemen host the Crimson at the Mullins Center. The game is part of ESPN’s 24-hour college basketball marathon telecast, which the network has been doing since 2008.

“It really is an honor,” Williams said. “Other teams are playing around the country. It’s pretty difficult playing at 10 o’clock, but thank God it’s at 10 and not 7.”

UMass coach Derek Kellogg said on Monday that he plans to start senior Freddie Riley at shooting guard instead of Jesse Morgan for Tuesday’s game.

Morgan missed the Minutemen’s Nov. 3 exhibition game against American International College due to a violation of team rules. That opened the door for Riley, who started in place of Morgan and made the most of his opportunity, scoring 21 points on 6-of-10 shooting from behind the 3-point line.

Kellogg said he wanted to give Riley, who couldn’t find a consistent shooting stroke last year, a chance to build on that game.

“I thought in his opportunity against AIC he played really well, brought some energy and intensity,” Kellogg said. “So as long as he continues to do that, he’ll stay in the starting lineup.

“He’s a senior, so he was given an opportunity and he took advantage of it. As long as he wants to hang on to it, we’ll go from there.”

Kellogg said he’ll start Williams, Raphiael Putney and Terrell Vinson, as usual, but that he won’t know until Tuesday whether he’ll go with Maxie Esho or Cady Lalanne at center.

Lalanne is still working his way back from offseason foot surgery and also missed the exhibition game with Morgan and point guard Trey Davis due to suspension. All three will be back for Tuesday’s game, and Kellogg’s decision on who to start at center will be determined after a night of sleep, he said.

“I’m going to sleep on it tonight and when I wake up in the morning, it’s going to be a revelation of who’s going to start,” Kellogg said. “I’m still just in my mind figuring out how I want to start that game. Do I want a little more athleticism on the press or do I want to go with someone a little bigger?”

Harvard, unlike UMass, has already played a game this season, which officially kicked off around the nation last Friday. The Crimson beat MIT, 69-54, in their season-opening victory.

Last year, Harvard had one of its best seasons in its program’s history. The Crimson went 26-5, and won the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament – which UMass was a part of – and eventually won the Ivy League title, which earned them their first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 1946.

Aspirations to return to the NCAA tournament this season took a hit in the offseason, however. Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, who were named co-captains, withdrew from the program in the wake of an academic cheating scandal, which has left Harvard young and inexperienced this season.

In Friday’s season-opening win, a collection of different players stepped up and made contributions. Three players – Laurent Rivard (10 points), Wesley Saunders (11) and Jonah Travis (14) – scored in double figures while center Kenyatta Smith recorded a career-high five blocks.

“When they’re playing their game, they’re a good basketball team,” Kellogg said. “They proved it last year and I think they’ve inserted some new guys that were highly talented kids coming out of high school.

“You just don’t want to give them a lot of easy open shots, just make the game hard on them for 40 minutes, and if we can do those things, hopefully the outcome will be favorable for the Minutemen.”

This will be the 25th meeting between the schools, but they haven’t played since Dec. 27, 1991, in Springfield, when the Minutemen won handily, 98-63. In that game, Kellogg, then a point guard for UMass, scored two points and dished out four assists, while now-assistant coach Lou Roe had 15 points and six rebounds. UMass leads the all-time series, 14-10.

The first 500 students to enter the Mullins Center will receive a free Dunkin Donuts gift card.

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