Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg didn’t want the question, or his subsequent answer, to be confused.
When asked about the early success of UMass forwards such as Sampson Carter, Raphiael Putney and Maxie Esho, Kellogg immediately redirected the wayward question toward the production of point guard Chaz Williams.
“It’s a combination, I think they’re playing well because of Chaz and I think Chaz is playing well because of them,” he said.
“That’s when you have kind of a nice mix, he’s making it easy on them, let’s not kid ourselves. He’s doing a good job of getting those guys some easy baskets but they’re finishing them, they’re making plays.”
Williams sports a 3-to-1 assist to turnover ratio, a statistic which undoubtedly appreciated his 15-assist performance against Brigham Young University on Saturday. UMass as a whole is shooting 47.8 percent from the floor and 37 percent from 3. The offensive efficiency has translated into 84.5 points per game, good for 24th in the nation in scoring.
But the Minutemen’s offensive outburst reaches far beyond its diminutive catalyst. All five starters continue to average double-digit scoring while getting almost seven points per game from both Esho and Trey Davis off the bench.
UMass continues to evolve, finding different ways to break down a defense. Saturday’s dismantling of BYU’s 2-3 zone defense to the tune of 105 points was the most recent example.
The Minutemen utilized its deepest position on the roster, the swing forward position, to break down the zone. Putney hit two early 3-pointers. When the defense extended, Esho camped out near the free throw line while Carter roamed the baselines.
“I thought Putney’s 3s got the zone stretched out a little bit which opened up the zone for Maxie,” Kellogg said. “And then Chaz just got on one of those runs which was kinda out of character to a certain extent to shoot the ball the way that he did. When you have those, you take them and say thank you and move on to the next game.”
In years past, UMass hasn’t offered the proficiency in the shooting department. The Minutemen have never shot better than 43 percent under Kellogg and relied more on speed and athleticism. But according to Ken Pomeroy of the college basketball statistics website kenpom.com, UMass’ adjusted offensive efficiency rating is 113.3 per 100 possessions, good for 22nd in the nation out of 351 teams. The statistic takes into account offensive efficiency against what would be considered an “average” Division I defense.
“We’re making shots against the zone and they have to spread out a little bit more and cover the 3-point line,” Carter said. “So with them doing that, they leave the middle and sideline open. We’re always going to need players to be aggressive from the sideline and middle.”
So far, the wings are holding true to script. Esho’s come alive in the paint, using a quick dribble-drive to finish around – and usually above – the rim. He’s shown a knack for grabbing rebounds as well, averaging 5.4 rebounds in just over 20 minutes per game.
Putney’s hitting 3-pointers at a 39 percent clip while factoring in around the rim as well, pulling in 5.4 rebounds. In his senior season, he’s worked on improving his shot selection. With Carter adding 13.8 points per game and generating offense in transition, the trio is excelling.
“We’ve been here a long time together,” Carter said. “Us three – me, Raphiael and Maxie – have an unbreakable bond.”
With Williams effectively leading the offense and Cady Lalanne averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds per game, both opportunity and space has opened up for others within the offense. And that’s just the way Carter envisioned it for himself and his fellow forwards.
“We’re the three-headed horsemen of the team,” Carter said referring to Putney and Esho. “I think dominating the three, four and five, dominating those positions is crucial.
“As long as we keep dominating inside and out, I don’t think any team can handle that.”
Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.