UMass men’s basketball learns from exhibition, prepares for BC

By Patrick Strohecker

There were plenty of positives and negatives that the Massachusetts men’s basketball team took away from Tuesday night’s exhibition game against American International College.

To start, UMass coach Derek Kellogg liked the way his starting five controlled the game. While Chaz Williams and Raphiael Putney struggled offensively, they were picked up by Derrick Gordon, Cady Lalanne and Sampson Carter, who combined for 51 of the starting five’s 62 points in the 89-76 win.

Evan Sahagian/Collegian

“I loved our first six minutes, or five or six minutes out there,” Kellogg said. “I thought we looked like a big time college basketball team. We threw the ball inside, we scored. We got into our press.”

On the flip side, there were still many parts of the game that the Minutemen need to clean up before Sunday’s season-opener against Boston College, including maintaining their coverage on defense.

According to Kellogg, UMass left too many guys open behind the 3-point arc and if it wasn’t for AIC’s inability to hit those shots, the Minutemen may have been looking at a much tougher contest.

“I think we made a couple mistakes, actually,” Kellogg said. “One’s that we can’t make on Sunday. So we need to rectify that quickly, or those misses, will be, three, three, three.”

One player to keep an eye on heading into Sunday’s contest is Williams. Following Tuesday night’s win, Williams tweeted out that he was dealing with some nagging injuries. While his hip pointer injury has been bothering him since the middle of the preseason, he doesn’t think that it will affect his ability to play come Sunday.

“It’s not me making excuses for my performance, it’s just me letting the fans know that I am battling injuries and by the time Sunday comes, I’ll be 100 percent,” he said.

Sunday’s matchup with in-state rival BC, it will pit two of New England’s best point guards going up against each other, in Williams and Eagles sophomore Olivier Hanlan.

Hanlan is coming off an impressive freshman season in which he led BC with 15.4 points per game and was named ACC Rookie of the Year. The sharp-shooting guard from Quebec, Canada, was strong all season for the Eagles, but his true breakout moment came in the ACC Tournament when he torched Georgia Tech for 41 points to lead BC to the upset.

“(Hanlan’s) a pretty good player,” Williams said. “(We) watched film on him and he had a big breakout game last year in the conference tournament against Georgia Tech. So, you know, he’s looking for a good sophomore season and you know, I’m looking to have a good senior year, so it should be a pretty fun battle.”

BC isn’t a one-man band, though. To complement Hanlan on offense is forward Ryan Anderson. The 6-foot-9 junior was second on the Eagles in scoring last season, leading the team in points in 10 out of the team’s 33 games. He picked up where he left off last season by scoring 21 points in BC’s season-opening, 82-78, overtime loss to Providence on Friday night.

Sunday also marks the regular-season debut of Gordon for UMass. Gordon sat out all of last season to comply with NCAA transfer guidelines after he left Western Kentucky following a freshmen season in which he led the Hilltoppers to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

It’s been 20 months since he last played a meaningful game and the only thing that Gordon is sure of come Sunday is that the nerves will once again be there when he hits the TD Garden floor.

“Honestly, I’m nervous every game, but once that ball goes up, the nerves go away,” Gordon said.

Sunday’s tip-off is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. at TD Garden in Boston.

Patrick Strohecker can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Strohecker.