UMass aims to carry momentum into St. Joe’s

By Mark Chiarelli

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)
(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team received a game-changing contribution from an unlikely source in its win over Rhode Island Saturday.

Now, UMass (10-8, 3-2 Atlantic 10) coach Derek Kellogg hopes that can start a trend.

“What I’ve really been waiting for, and it’s hopefully coming along slowly but surely, is some guys that aren’t on the scouting report that are waiting here to step to the forefront,” Kellogg said.

In a 60-56 win over URI, redshirt freshman Zach Coleman scored a career-high 13 points off the bench to erase a Rams lead and push the Minutemen to a victory. According to Kellogg, there’s a number of players capable of giving such a performance on any night.

“Whether it’s Demetrius (Dyson), Donte (Clark), Zach, Tyler (Bergantino) or Jabarie (Hinds), I think they’re capable,” Kellogg said.

They’ll receive their first crack at making a dent in a conference opponent Wednesday night, when UMass travels to Saint Joseph’s (7-9, 1-4 A-10) to face the Hawks.

If there’s been one constant through five games of Atlantic 10 basketball for the Minutemen, it’s been that Kellogg’s required all hands on deck. Only one player is averaging more than 10 points (Maxie Esho, 12.2).

In wins against La Salle and George Mason, he reached to his bench to play considerably more minutes than earlier in the season. Against Davidson and St. Bonaventure, a lack of offensive output played a part in downing UMass.

According to point guard Trey Davis, the entire team can get on the same page quickly if it focuses on playing defense first.

“We just have to try to come out with the same intensity as against Rhode Island,” he said. “I think if we play defensive-minded, then things on offense will just happen for us.”

UMass held URI to only 41 attempted shots and worked them on the boards, winning the second-chance point battle 18-3. It’s the second straight strong defensive showing for the Minutemen, who also held a prolific Davidson offense to only 71 points and 41 percent shooting.

The defense must now turn its attention to Hawks forward DeAndre Bembry.

He’s the unequivocal leader of St. Joe’s and leads the team in minutes (37.6), points (16.6), rebounds (6.6), assists (2.8) and blocks (1.1) per game. At 6-foot-6, he’s capable of playing all over the court.

“I think he’s established himself as one of the better players in the league,” Kellogg said. But he also cautioned against placing too much emphasis on one player.

“When they’ve been really good they’ve had other guys step in there,” he said. “You want to be conscious of Bembry, obviously, but also make sure nobody else doubles their scoring average or does some things that are uncharacteristic.”

The last time UMass visited St. Joe’s, which is 5-2 at home this season, it was disastrous.

The Minutemen were ranked No. 21 at the time and trailed by as many as 17 points in the first half. They struggled to deal with a raucous environment and entered the half trailing by 16. UMass very nearly came back, too, tying the game at 67-67 before missing two crucial layups. St. Joe’s won 73-68 and knocked UMass out of the national rankings.

“I think they’ve always drawn well against us and the crowd seems to be right on top of it,” Kellogg said. “They’ve usually had pretty good teams, so the combination of those three things makes them a formidable opponent.”

But UMass enters in a much different situation. It struggled to string together wins this season and knows it’s nearing a crucial portion of its schedule. The Minutemen have won three of four in conference play. It’s now or never to make a run.

According to Davis, the team realized it was time to make a run after its loss to Davidson.

“After we won those two games and then lost that one, I think that was the last straw,” Davis said. “We told each other ‘Alright, ‘let’s make our run right now’ before the Rhode Island game.”

UMass will see if it can continue that run at 7 p.m. at Hagan Arena.

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