Increased guard play crucial as UMass basketball hosts La Salle

By Mark Chiarelli

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Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

As of 1:14 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg was reluctant to make a change to his starting lineup.

Kellogg noted with a wry smile and quick glance at the clock that, despite still having time to rethink his decision, he’s hesitant to hit any type of panic button. Doing so would result in a significant change for a team that’s used the same starting lineup in all 21 games this season. But UMass’ recent play – it’s lost three of its last four games – and the emergence of guard Trey Davis might require Kellogg to keep a watchful eye on rotational minutes moving forward.

Davis is averaging 28 minutes per game over his last three games. He led all scorers in the Minutemen’s 78-65 loss to St. Bonaventure with 18 points. For a team in dire need of explosive scoring early in games, Davis’ ability to score in various ways is an intriguing option.

“It’s one of those things where he’s playing well and getting his minutes and he’ll get them either way,” Kellogg said.

Distributing additional minutes to Davis is even more appealing against UMass’ next opponent La Salle. The Explorers traditionally play a three-guard lineup, generating most of their scoring from the guard position.

La Salle became one of the darlings of the NCAA Tournament a season ago, racing to the Sweet 16 behind leading scorer and then-senior Ramon Galloway. Now, guards Tyreek Duren, Tyrone Garland and Jerrell Wright combine to average 40.7 points per game on a team seeking to regain the spark from a season ago. If the opportunity to match personnel arises, Davis will embrace the opportunity.

“It’s much easier (to play three guards) because you don’t always have to bring the ball up the court,” Davis said. “You can rely on (Derrick Gordon) or Chaz (Williams) and it’s just a much faster tempo. Once we got going in the second half against St. Joe’s you could tell that things really started moving and we started coming back.”

Kellogg said it’s something he’s mulled over in the days leading up to Wednesday night’s matchup against the Explorers.

“That was one of the thought processes,” Kellogg said. “It was more along the lines of trying to match up with the three-guard lineup.”

He also noted that when the Minutemen featured a lineup consisting of Davis, Williams and Gordon against Saint Joseph’s, it was the team’s best lineup. But he’s also cognizant of making too many changes during a time of flux.

“But you know what, we’re a pretty good team,” Kellogg said. “Why don’t we make (La Salle) match up with what we do and how we play? I think at times you get away with worrying about other teams instead of doing what you do well. I’m finally going back to the philosophy of let’s do what we do well and play UMass basketball.”

Esho-less

Kellogg also noted that the Minutemen would “probably” be without the services of reserve forward Maxie Esho, who has yet to clear NCAA concussion protocol after he sustained a head injury Saturday against St. Joe’s.

Replacing Esho’s 8.3 points and five rebounds in 20.8 minutes per game off the bench won’t be an easy task. Freshmen Seth Berger, Demetrius Dyson and Clyde Santee will see increased playing time against La Salle in Esho’s place.

“A lot of the coaches have been talking to me and the other freshmen and they’ve been saying that you’re going to get your opportunity on Wednesday,” Berger said. “We’ve been using this week in practice as preparation.”

Berger’s appeared for short periods of time as a defensive substitute in recent games and is excited to have a chance to expand on his role on Wednesday.

“We’ve been preparing the same with the mindset that we’re gonna get a shot,” he said. “We’re looking forward to it, to finally get a chance to show what we can do.”

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