Minutemen ready for under the radar Youngstown State

By Mark Chiarelli

Evan Sahagian/Daily Collegian

There’s no mistaking the importance of Massachusetts’ game against Youngstown State on Sunday at the Mullins Center.

No, the matinee 1 p.m. matchup won’t carry the prominence of a nationally televised ESPN appearance against Louisiana State. It also won’t hold the clout of an in-state TD Garden rivalry against Boston College. But amid heightened expectations and a grueling out-of-conference schedule, no game can be taken lightly.

“Back-to-back years we like to play our performance to the level of our competition,” UMass forward Raphiael Putney said. “We gotta just play how we play our game, treat it like another big game like we did Boston College and LSU this year. We just gotta come prepared in practice and I think we’re ready.”

Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg stressed the Penguins are a talented team, one that’s flown under some radars so far.

“Are you slapping the floor and playing the way we played against BC and LSU? Well you got a team that’s almost equally as good as them coming in that you have to do the same thing for,” Kellogg said.

He was referencing UMass’ tendency to smack the floor with their palms while setting up on defense. The “court smack” energized not only the team but the fans in both games this season. The move, which started in practice, helped set the tone the Minutemen continue to try to achieve.

“When (the opponent) comes down, on defense somebody smacks the floor and everybody else smacks the floor and that gets us hyped into our defense,” forward Raphiael Putney said.

While it may seem a bit gimmicky, Putney believes it gives the team a psychological boost.

“I think that’s gonna actually help us a lot more on defense,” Putney said. “Get us hyped and get us prepared to play more defense and put more pressure on them.”

That aggressive nature is something UMass continues to work on in preparation for Youngstown State. Kellogg referenced on multiple occasions the importance of sustaining energy as a team and playing “UMass basketball.”

Putney’s a perfect example of a player who can swiftly and aggressively impact a game. Against LSU, Putney beat a defender’s block out attempt and slammed home a missed free throw attempt, igniting the home crowd.

“I came out more aggressive (on Tuesday),” Putney said. “I caused the first foul of the whole entire game and I just had my mindset to attack the rim a lot more.”

Putney filled the stat sheet, scoring 14 points while hauling in nine rebounds and blocking shots. So too did senior Sampson Carter, who scored 17 points and made 11 free throws.

“The greatest thing about guys like Putney and some of the other guys is really whatever they give, in my mind, I think they can do more,” Kellogg said. “Just because their talent level is pretty high and their length and athleticism.”

The Minutemen will need multiple veterans to step up against a Penguins team averaging 81.5 points per game. Senior guard Kendrick Perry is averaging 21 points per game while adding 4.5 assists and five rebounds per game as well. Kellogg still sees plenty of areas to tighten up as the season progresses.

“I didn’t think we got into our press at all on Tuesday,” he said. “I thought (LSU) did a good job of beating our press up the floor. I thought our floor balance and transition defense wasn’t as good as it needs to be and then I think we gotta continue to work on our spacing.”

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli