UMass basketball seeks more consistency out of its veterans

By Mark Chiarelli

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian 0
(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
0

When Derek Kellogg looks across the broad landscape of college basketball, he sees a number of teams in the same position as his.

As the calendar turns to February, teams embark on the meat of rigorous conference schedules. Every game has significant ramifications. Those with lofty expectations begin to sense it’s time to hit the gas.

So far, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team (10-9, 3-3 Atlantic 10) has tried to hit the gas and stalled out. Disappointing conference losses to St. Bonaventure and Saint Joseph’s sandwich a 71-63 home loss to Davidson – a loss which the Minutemen believe shouldn’t have happened.

UMass’ most glaring bugaboo is a lack of consistency and, in crucial situations, a lineup which can produce offensively. To this point, the Minutemen still seek “the guy.”

“You listen to college games across the country and they make a point of the teams who have that so-called alpha dog,” Kellogg said Wednesday.

“A lot of teams around the country are still trying to formulate who that is. I think we still fall in that category. You know, ‘Who’s going to take that shot in crunch time or an important time?’ We’ve tried to go through different guys and we’re still waiting for the guy that’s going to do it consistently every time, all the time.”

Naturally, Kellogg looked to his most tenured players first, but it’s only come in flashes. Maxie Esho’s 19 points and 12 rebounds in a win over La Salle, Derrick Gordon’s 19 points in a win over Iona and Cady Lalanne’s 23-point, 16-rebound performance against Manhattan come to mind.

But it’s been a struggle to get multiple veterans – or even one of the three – playing at a high level consistently.

“I’m still trying to figure out why that is,” Gordon said. “It’s like we have games where we’re going good and then we have games where we go on droughts. We’re practicing hard and everything and for some reason it doesn’t carry over to the game.”

UMass saw it firsthand against St. Joe’s last Wednesday, when Esho scored only two points. The offense sputtered and the Hawks pulled away in the second half, winning 62-56. Neither Lalanne nor Gordon have scored more than 10 points in the Minutemen’s last two games.

Yet just as the roster composition isn’t changing any time soon, neither is the expectation that, on most nights, the veteran players must lead the way.

“I think the step up guys have to be the guys who have been here and played,” said Kellogg, who rattled off the names of Lalanne, Esho, Gordon and Trey Davis.

“I need the more mature guys who have been here to play the way they can play every single night out.”
What better opportunity to start than at home against one of the top teams in the conference?

UMass hosts Dayton Thursday at the Mullins Center. The Flyers are winners of nine of their last 10, were briefly ranked No. 22 in the AP Top 25 polls and went to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament last season.

It’s a golden opportunity.

“Obviously, they’re one of the two top teams now in our league,” Kellogg said. “They’re a very good team that has national respect and played in the final eight last year.”

“They have a lot of guys back from last year’s team that made a run in the NCAA Tournament,” Gordon said. “They’re coming into our house, we have to be able to win in our house.”

Kellogg acknowledged that Dayton carries an added emphasis due to their recent success, specifically within the conference. It’s a game the Minutemen would desperately love to have if they want to embark on a run.

To do that, they’ll need someone – or a collection of veterans – to play assertively. Gordon said he spoke with Kellogg and vows to play more aggressively now.

“We have to find something,” Gordon said. “We have about (12) games left until the conference tournament. There’s still a lot of room to move up in the standings but we have to take it one game at a time.”

Kellogg said he’s still waiting for someone to take charge.

“When I say waiting, I mean I’m still look for somebody to grab the bull by the horns and take it,” he said.

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