Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Lineup change backfires in UMass basketball’s season-ending loss to Tennessee

Taylor C. Snow/Daily Collegian
Taylor C. Snow/Daily Collegian

RALEIGH, N.C. – If there was one consistency all year long for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, it was the starting lineup.

But, even that was subject to change in the NCAA Tournament.

On Friday afternoon, UMass coach Derek Kellogg did what nobody thought was going to happen all season and tinkered with his starting lineup, inserting Maxie Esho in favor of fifth-year senior Raphiael Putney. The end result was not what he was looking for.

“Putney and I had a meeting and we kind of just discussed that he thought maybe him coming off the bench with his scoring and Maxie’s energy to start the game would potentially be a good way to do it,” Kellogg said.

All season long, Esho provided energy off the bench for the Minutemen, giving the team a boost whenever they seemed to be stuck. That energy didn’t carry over into his first ever college start. UMass never got into a rhythm and struggled to knock down shots, while Tennessee picked apart the defense.

Esho’s energy was there at the beginning for the Minutemen, but it was the wrong type of energy, which only added to the rocky start.

“I thought we had good energy, whether it was nervous energy or jitters. … I thought we were so energized that we missed a lot of easy (shots),” Kellogg said.

Looking back on it, it’s a decision that deserves some second-guessing. UMass’ energy wasn’t instilled the right way and Putney, who finished the game with two points in only 14 minutes of action, was virtually non-existent.

While Putney, much like the rest of the team, failed to find a rhythm, he didn’t see any reason to second-guess the decision.

“I went to Coach Kellogg and told him (Esho) deserved to be in that starting role and have me come off the bench,” Putney said. “Try to bring extra energy and that’s the line we went, nothing else to that.”

But the decision to start Esho in the biggest game of the season may have had more to do with mentality than the actual game.

Esho had been accustomed to coming off the bench throughout the season, inserting his energy through that role rather than having to channel it right from the tip. It was obvious that he was over anxious at the beginning when he jumped the opening tip-off, forcing a restart. That was only a sign of things to come for the rest of UMass as it fell behind 16-8 within the first seven minutes of the game.

“My energy came off better and more efficient when I came off the bench,” Esho said. “This being my first time starting, it was kind of different. I had jitters and it was different. It was my first time starting in my college career.”

The decision to potentially start Esho over either Putney or Sampson Carter has been discussed since the Minutemen last played in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, when Esho was UMass’ best player in its two games, averaging 18.5 points per game and seven rebounds.

Despite his nerves to open the game, he still finished tied with Chaz Williams for the team lead in points for the game with 12 and also grabbed six rebounds.

Still, it wasn’t the best time to experiment with something completely new to a team that was already struggling over the last month. And even though it wasn’t the deciding factor in the game, hindsight will allow for a lot of second-guessing to happen.

At least the Minutemen can live with the decision that was made.

“We all play the same amount of minutes,” Putney said. “I’m a starter, he’s a starter, even if he went somewhere else, he could be a starter. He deserved that role at this time and point in the season.”

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

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Massachusetts Daily Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *