Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Donte Clark regains elusive offensive form for the Minutemen

Nicole Evangelista/Daily Collegian
Nicole Evangelista/Daily Collegian

Donte Clark knew that his shots would fall eventually, so he took pre-emptive actions to speed up the process.

The freshman guard took more shots in practice, both by choice and at the urging of Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg. Clark has the ability to change games and possesses a potent 3-point shooting stroke, but it was a matter of re-gaining that form.

In a 66-59 win over La Salle Sunday, Clark reaped the rewards of his investment.

He scored a team-high 23 points, drilling 5-of-7 3-pointers, adding seven rebounds and igniting a significant UMass scoring outburst in the first half. It was, in his words, a relief.

“I hadn’t been hitting my 3s like that, so it was definitely a relief,” Clark said following the game. “Most of them feel good, so I’m just looking for them to go in.”

Clark nailed his first 3-pointer on an open shot from the top of the key, giving UMass an early 7-5 lead. His second three-ball was equally open, gave UMass a seven-point lead and forced Explorers coach John Giannini to call a timeout to quell the momentum.

It didn’t slow Clark.

Clark drilled two more 3-pointers, both of which were from the corner and were remarkably wide-open. The net barely moved on his fourth – a shooter’s swish – and UMass took a 20-10 lead.

By the end of the first half, he had 16 points, was a perfect 4-for-4 on 3-pointers and UMass led 37-30.

“Obviously, Donte Clark playing so well in the first half gave us a great offensive boost,” Kellogg said.

The next step is for UMass to receive a boost from Clark on a nightly basis.

Through 23 games, Clark is averaging only 9.1 points per game. He’s displayed enough offensive prowess – 25 points against Florida Gulf Coast, 15 points against Florida State and 14 against both Providence and Brigham Young – to draw rave reviews and lofty comparisons from most of the Minutemen fan base.

But Clark’s been prone to offensive let downs as well. He scored only two points in 33 minutes in a win over Davidson and endured a five-game stretch in January where he failed to crack double-digit scoring.

Before his explosion against La Salle, Clark was just 4-of-23 (17 percent) on 3-pointers in Atlantic 10 Conference play.

Yet Kellogg told Clark to keep shooting.

“I was on him a little bit in practice to shoot,” Kellogg said. “Like, ‘Just shoot the ball. You’re a good player, you can score. I want you to shoot, I need you to shoot and make 3s.’”

“I got in the gym more and got my shots up so I could be prepared for when I do start hitting shots,” Clark said.

Kellogg said he put Clark on the spot, requesting the 6-foot-4 guard perform a shooting drill in front of the team. Clark responded, hitting all three shots – although Kellogg contended the third one was “questionable.”

“It was nice to see him sprinting into them and knocking them all down,” Kellogg said.

It’s difficult to gauge how a freshman responds to a full season of college basketball. In Clark’s case, he didn’t play at all last year, as he sat out as an academic non-qualifier.  But even if Clark can offer UMass a consistent shooting threat from outside, it opens up the offense considerably.

It adds another scoring option to couple with Cady Lalanne and Maxie Esho. Kellogg said that, in theory, outside shooting opens up space for Lalanne to operate in the paint, an area of considerable congestion this season for the Minutemen.

Currently, only reserve forward Zach Coleman (38.5 percent) is shooting above 33 percent from beyond the arc.

If Clark’s the threat that La Salle saw on Sunday, it’ll make UMass an even more imposing threat as conference play continues.

“I was like, ‘You can do that,’” said Kellogg of Clark.

“He’s a talented offensive player and all it is sometimes is taking good shots and being confident.  I think when he is he can really score.”

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

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