Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass basketball focusing on better starts to second half

By Patrick Strohecker

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Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

After the Massachusetts men’s basketball team wrapped up its 16th win of the season against Elon, it was easy to take away many positives from its 84-74 victory.

UMass never trailed and Cady Lalanne and Chaz Williams performed like the two best players on the floor. But, perhaps most importantly, the Minutemen came out with the same intensity to start the second half as they did to open the game.

Second half starts have been a struggle for UMass as of late, especially in Atlantic 10 Conference play. In each of the team’s first three conference games, the Minutemen seemed to have left their fire in the locker room, spotting opponents big leads, which forced them to mount sizable comebacks.

While the team has turned those deficits into wins, it’s been hard for UMass coach Derek Kellogg to pinpoint exactly what the problem has been for his team as of late.

“We’ve played so well in the second half up until (conference play) and I’m not sure,” he said. “Maybe we just need to stay the course. I thought we had a good start the other night at Elon, so hopefully that’s prophetic of things to come.”

Even though Kellogg isn’t sure what his team needs to do to improve, Williams, UMass’ unquestionable leader, thinks it all starts on defense.

“Try to get an early spark on the defensive end,” he said. “We make our stands on defense, so if we come out and get an early stop on defense, it will show a lot to us as a team and as a group and we’ll feel that from right there we can keep moving forward.”

Once the defense is in order and playing up to the level that it needs to be, then the offense can take over, Williams said.

“Our offense feeds off our defense a lot because sometimes our defense creates turnovers that will lead to easy offense, or even make teams shoot quick shots, where we can get the rebound and get (the ball) out quick,” Williams said.

But in order for the Minutemen to step up their defensive presence, the energy level still needs to be at the same point that it is during the first half, especially going up against a tough Richmond squad on Wednesday.

All season long, Kellogg’s gone to reserve forward Maxie Esho when the team needed a spark. His role on the team is simple and he knows that as long as he goes out there and does his job, then everyone else will follow suit.

“I just focus on bringing energy every day,” Esho said. “I don’t really think about coming in in the second half or when I come in giving energy, it’s just, I know my role and I think just me doing my role is what makes me play like that and makes (the team) play like that.”

Esho’s energy has turned around games for UMass, especially when the team gets off to slow starts in the second half. He isn’t just a simple role player, but also a key contributor to the team’s offense and defense. He recorded 17 points and seven rebounds in only 21 minutes of play against Elon.

The Minutemen prevented any letdown from happening in the second half against Elon, never once letting their lead shrink to less than seven points. It was a step in the right direction for UMass, which must now look to have that performance carry over into its game on Wednesday against Richmond.

“Even though (Elon) kept making the runs, we kind of held serve and never really let them get back in the game,” Kellogg said. “(It’s) a sign of our team that’s matured and kind of a team that has a chance to be pretty good.”

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

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