Demetrius Dyson earning playing time through defensive improvement

By Mark Chiarelli

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

FAIRFAX, Va. — At first, the statistics don’t jump off the screen.

Demetrius Dyson is averaging 10.3 minutes and 3.3 points per game over his last three appearances. He’s still behind other forwards on the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s depth chart and his playing time has topped out at 12 minutes against both La Salle and George Mason. Over the last three games, he’s recorded two rebounds, two assists and a block.

Yet Dyson feels like he’s as much a part of the team as ever before.

“Yeah, I am,” Dyson said following UMass’ 66-62 victory over George Mason Sunday.

“I’m just actually happy to be playing again. I never know what I can do, if I’m going to have a good game or bad game, if I’m not playing at all. So my time was really limited, so I’m just trying to get in and bring energy.”

Not long ago, Dyson was buried on the bench. He didn’t appear against Brigham Young, Harvard and Florida State and was relegated to mainly mop-up duty. He struggled with confidence and didn’t know if he’d get a chance again.

So Dyson made a change — specifically on the defensive end.

He focused on upping his defensive intensity in practice, working at covering both bigger players (Maxie Esho) and smaller, quicker guards like Jabarie Hinds. He placed more of an emphasis on intangible plays such as boxing out, cracking down on defense and closing out on players he covers. The offensive opportunities would come if the defense was solid.

And he’s starting to see the results.

“Yeah, I think that’s what it is,” said Dyson when asked if his defense is earning him more minutes.

“I can pretty much guard anybody, I feel like I can. I think that’s what’s gotten me on the court. I’m just trying to do that and things will happen for me on the offensive end as time comes on.”

Dyson came up with a monster block against La Salle forward Jerrell Wright, pinning a potential layup against the backboard in the second half.

Against George Mason, he earned a steal which turned into a Hinds layup the other way and wasn’t afraid to mix it up with Patriots’ center Shevon Thompson, tying up the 6-foot-11 center and forcing a jump ball.

“Those things are going to add up and help my team win,” Dyson said. “I may not have to score 40 (point) every night, but if I’m going to get a defensive steal or a tie-up or a rebound that’s going to seal the deal or help us get an extra run or something like that, then that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Dyson’s a cog in UMass coach Derek Kellogg’s bench unit. Kellogg’s shown more faith in a number of players on the bench in conference play.

“The reality of it is I’m starting to feel comfortable with most of the guys,” Kellogg said. “Now we just need a couple of the vets to come out of their own self and just start dominating, then all of a sudden we come out with that next wave and maybe we have something here.”

Dyson believes the second unit is most effective defensively. Kellogg acknowledged that in recent practices, the reserves have played the starters competitively and are closing the gap in the difference in production. Dyson said it’s everyone’s goal to earn more minutes and further increase the competition.

Once thought of as a 3-point shooting specialist, Dyson’s continuing to evolve into a more complete player.

“Everyone wants to get in and start well on the defensive end,” Dyson said.

“We see what’s going on in the game and we’re like ‘They’re not even playing hard on defense.’ So I’m like ‘Alright, when we go in we just gotta go in and get in on defense and get on the ball. Don’t just let somebody dribble and look at you and pick us a part. We talk about it on the bench before we go out and then we get in and do it on the defensive end.”

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