Derek Kellogg: St. Bonaventure as tough a test as any for UMass

By Mark Chiarelli

(Cade Belisle/Daily Colleigan)
(Cade Belisle/Daily Colleigan)

Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg said following the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s 66-59 win Friday that his team would need to steal its next victory.

Winners of four straight, it’d be tough to peg the Minutemen (14-9, 7-3 Atlantic 10 Conference) as being significantly disadvantaged against any conference foe. But in recent history, UMass hasn’t fared well when asked to travel to its next opponent, St. Bonaventure.

“That’s always traditionally been a very difficult place to play because of proximity and how the fans are right on the floor,” said Kellogg, who also noted the Bonnies typically draw sell-out crowds.

St. Bonaventure plays in the Reilly Center, a 5,480-seat gym which is considered to be one of the more challenging venues in college basketball. The fans practically breathe on the playing surface and there’s no love lost when it comes to their relationship to the other team.

According to UMass center Cady Lalanne, it’s tough to win there, and the home-court advantage starts as soon as the team arrives at St. Bonaventure, which is located in Olean, New York.

“Yeah, I don’t know why,” Lalanne said. “There’s something about the town that, for me, creeps me out. It’s just depressing and boring over there. Their student section is pretty good, they do a good job of filling it with fans. It will be a pretty good game.”

Lalanne’s seen the difficulty in playing at St. Bonaventure firsthand. UMass hasn’t beaten St. Bonaventure since 2012.

Last season, the Minutemen fell to the Bonnies 78-65 in a dreary performance. The loss, coupled with a loss in its ensuing game to Saint Joseph’s, knocked UMass (No. 21 at the time) out of the AP Top 25 rankings.

The year prior, the Minutemen again fell to St. Bonaventure on the road, falling 99-94 in a wild game. UMass was considered a team vying for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, and the loss was a significant blemish on its postseason resume.

But now, UMass enters in a different situation.

It’s a team that’s peaking later in the season, as opposed to the trends of team’s from past years. The Minutemen’s four straight wins have steadied a season that was, at one point, on the ropes.

Kellogg said UMass’ latest trek to New York presents a strong measuring stick.

“I think it’s as tough a test as we can have,” Kellogg said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how our team responds.”

The Bonnies have won their last two games on buzzer-beater layups and trounced UMass earlier this season, downing the Minutemen 69-55 to open conference play. The margin of error is already slim within the conference – and traveling to a hostile environment doesn’t help.

“Honestly, how you feel about yourself and your team can come down to a lot of those one point, two point games,” Kellogg said. “I think right now, a team like St. Bonaventure feels great.

Stacking up

Kellogg said following the La Salle victory that he’ll watch other college basketball games until 3 a.m. in the morning, a comment which elicited a number of smiles around the postgame press conference room.

But does Kellogg really stay up into the early morning watching basketball?

“Not every day,” he said Wednesday with a smile. “But quite frequently I’ll watch games. I’ll catch a lot of those West Coast teams late night when there’s nothing else on.”

Kellogg said that he’s noticed one constant across the broad landscape of college basketball.

“One thing I think you see is a ton of parity,” he said. “You’re watching games where you would assume certain teams are probably going to win because of history or things of that nature, but there’s a lot of good college basketball games that are coming down to the wire.”

No better example is St. Bonaventure, which has escaped with close victories over the past week. Kellogg anticipates a difficult matchup, but is optimistic that his team is gelling at the right time.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how our team responds,” Kellogg said. “They feel good about themselves, but I think we feel pretty good about where we are. If we can take care of the basketball and physically meet the demands of the game, I think we’ve got a pretty good chance.”

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