UMass aims to restore defensive prowess as it faces Florida Gulf Coast

By Mark Chiarelli

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Following the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s 82-60 loss to Louisiana State, UMass coach Derek Kellogg acknowledged that in order for his team to mask it’s offensive deficiencies, it needed to improve on the defensive end.

“If we’re going to struggle some offensively because that may be who we are, then we have to be very good defensively,” Kellogg said. “And right now I’d say we’re OK.”

Armed with a consistent practice schedule for the first time in weeks, Kellogg and the rest of the Minutemen set out to regain its “staple” form of stingy defense.

The Minutemen had back-to-back practice days on Thursday and Friday, a calming sense of normalcy following a chaotic start to the season which featured eight games played in 17 days. As the Minutemen prepare for their next opponent, Florida Gulf Coast, the focus returned to ratcheting up the intensity.

“I figured I would be very tough on them,” Kellogg said. “We’re trying to solidify our half court defense and rebounding and hope that we get our staples now, which is our half court defense and what UMass basketball is supposed to look like. I don’t know if you can do that in a day and a half or two days, but it’s a good starting point.”

Kellogg worked UMass in a physical, demanding practice on Thursday and returned with a lengthy, albeit more light-hearted practice on Friday.

The Minutemen are eyeing a rebound against the Eagles after two crucial non-conference losses to LSU and Harvard which exposed a number of striking flaws. Kellogg cited a lack of shot-selection, defensive consistency and toughness. UMass allowed both Harvard and LSU to shoot above 50 percent.

UMass guard Derrick Gordon echoed Kellogg’s sentiments.

“It’s not our offense at all,” Gordon said when asked of the team’s more pressing issue.

“It’s the defense, that’s where it starts at … that’s where you’re going to win games. The offense is going to come, we have enough talent on this team where offense isn’t the issue, it’s more on the defensive end. We have to get stops.”

The Minutemen turn their attention a Florida Gulf Coast team which boasts an impressive back court in Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson. UMass has struggled with opposing guards this season, as Harvard’s Wesley Saunders scored 27 points against the Minutemen, while LSU’s Josh Gray (25) and Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant (24) also played well.

Thompson is averaging 15.8 points per game on 40 percent shooting, while Comer is averaging 10.1 points and 7.3 assists per game.

“I would say they’re both very good,” Kellogg said. “We’re still on a learning curve, we’re still trying to get better. I’m hoping our team can overcome some experience in some of these back courts.”

Gordon primarily matches up against the opposition’s best guards, and is expecting a difficult assignment on Sunday, as well as an improved personal performance. He ranked his personal performance this season as as seven or eight on a 10-point rating scale.

“I think I have another whole layer in terms of intensity and ball pressure,” Gordon said. “I still can go more above and beyond, which I’m going to challenge myself to do that. That’s where it starts at. (Kellogg) looks at me as the best on-ball defender on the team so I’m going to be able to show not only him, but everybody else in the country that I am one of the top defenders in the country.”

UMass and Florida Gulf Coast will tip off at 2 p.m. Sunday in Springfield at the MassMutual Center.

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