Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Jabarie Hinds shows off his scoring ability for UMass

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(Alec Zabrecky/Daily Collegian)

(Alec Zabrecky/Daily Collegian)

Overshadowed by the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s two straight losses this past week was the marked improvement of one player in particular.

Junior point guard Jabarie Hinds led UMass in scoring in both games – a 17-point performance against Rhode Island Wednesday and a 16-point game Saturday on the road against Virginia Commonwealth. Often, he appeared to be the most aggressive and comfortable player on the court against the Minutemen’s toughest week of competition this season.

The reason? He now has the luxury of a clearly defined role, and it’s paying dividends.

“I’m more comfortable, honestly,” said Hinds, who returned to his role as the first reserve off the bench in January after starting for six games.

“And I’m being more aggressive,” he said. “I’m just taking what the defense gives me.”

UMass coach Derek Kellogg’s used Hinds, who is in his first season with the Minutemen after transferring from West Virginia, in a variety of ways this season. Typically, he’s asked Hinds to come in off the bench, play the most minutes of any reserve and assert his speed into the game.

It hasn’t always worked. Hinds battled bouts of ineffectiveness, especially in January when he went four straight games without scoring more than six points. But he slowly started to turn the corner on Feb. 4 against Fordham in his native state of New York.

Playing in front of family in friends, Hinds scored 12 points, added two steals and two assists and spurred a stretch in the second half where UMass erased a Rams’ lead en route to a 78-72 victory. According to Kellogg, it was the first time Hinds appeared to be truly comfortable.

“I think that Fordham game, he really started to assert himself,” Kellogg said. “That was the game that I really looked and said, ‘It seems like he’s getting it.’”

What UMass fans saw this past week was a more consistent extension of the Fordham performance. And there is perhaps no better summation than what fans saw against URI.

The Minutemen trailed 10-8 early in the first half when Hinds attacked the Rams’ rim offensively. In an instant, Hinds was past his original defender, slithering into the lane. The 5-foot-11 guard skied toward the rim, catching almost all of the Ryan Center – and definitely the two defenders beneath him – off guard, throwing down a one-handed dunk.

It was Hinds in a nutshell: Speed, explosiveness and unpredictability.

“I have good speed,” Hinds said. “So I can get to certain places on the floor and create for both myself and my teammates.”

Yet what Hinds feels has made the biggest difference wasn’t the strengths he already had, but instead, something that wasn’t as effective early in the season: his jump shot.

“I think my jump shot has clicked and the game’s been easier for me because the defense doesn’t know what I’m going to do – whether I’m going to shoot or drive the basketball,” Hinds said.

Hinds hit a game-winning 3-pointer against St. Bonaventure on Feb. 11 and has made at least one 3-pointer in his last eight games. He’s 11-for-23 (48 percent) over that stretch, a stark improvement from his 32 percent clip for the season.

“Any time anybody, especially him, can knock down a jumper, I think that gives us one more weapon,” Kellogg said. “It seems like when he’s hitting those, that opens up the rest of the game. Now all of a sudden he’s getting in the paint and hitting mid-range jumpers and layups.”

Hinds was aggressive against VCU, often looking like one of the only players on the Minutemen undeterred by the vaunted Rams “Havoc” defense. When he’s at his best, he often successfully teeters between frenetic and reckless.

It’s taken time for Hinds’ scoring ability to shine. He has the talent of a starter but is better suited, at least this year, to come off the bench – something he’s learned to deal with this season. Now, as the final four games of the season await UMass, he’s in full bloom.

“I mentioned it earlier in the year and I’m not sure what kind of credence people take in this, but for transfers, it’s all different times,” Kellogg said.

“Some guys pop right on the scene day one and are ready to go and understand it and other guys, it takes them a while. He really seems to have gotten comfortable in the last week or two with his role on the team and how we’re playing and style of play.”

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

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