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

UMass offense continues to ride the hot hand

(Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian)
(Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian)

When the Massachusetts men’s basketball team peers across the court Wednesday night, it will see a team which heavily relies on one player.

Saint Joseph’s goes as its star forward DeAndre Bembry does. He leads the Hawks in points (17.8), rebounds (7.3), assists (3.3), steals (2.0) and minutes (38.6) per game. He’s Mr. Do Everything and it shows, as no other player is averaging more than 10.7 points per game.

In other words, it’s the exact opposite of UMass.

“There’s a good chance (Bembry’s) going to get his points because he’s done it – you don’t want to concede that,” Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg said. “At the same token, you don’t want (Chris) Wilson or Isaiah (Miles) or (Aaron) Brown or one of the big guys to get going and give them a second, third or even fourth option. Because I think, at times, they struggle to score points.”

When Kellogg inverts his attention to his own sideline, he’ll see a team that, unlike the Hawks, doesn’t struggle to score points. It’s finding someone who does it consistently that continues to evade the Minutemen.

Since losing to St. Joe’s 62-56 on Jan. 21, UMass is 6-2. Over that span of eight games, it had four different players as leading scorers. Only twice was senior center Cady Lalanne the leading scorer, and fellow senior Maxie Esho never led the Minutemen in scoring over that stretch.

It’s a far cry from the blueprint UMass entered the season with, and what Hawks coach Phil Martelli expected to see.

“I think the biggest thing that they have going now is that they’ve settled into something that you don’t get a lot of teams to do,” Martelli said in his weekly Atlantic 10 Conference call.  “They’re not waiting anymore on Esho and Lalanne. They’re playing the hot hand … They’ll kind of go through the game until they can find that guy that gets it going.

“It’s a really interesting way to do things, because as we prepared before the year, you think you’re going to game plan to take away Lalanne or Esho or try to take away Trey Davis’ 3s. They’re not having that. They’re finding a way. In their 6-game winning streak, I think they did that and I thought they did it against VCU. I mean, they were buried in that game and they just kept playing and Jabarie Hinds and Demetrius Dyson did a really nice job off the bench for them.”

The Minutemen don’t have a scorer averaging more than 12 points per game. Point guard Davis leads UMass (11.7 points per game) while Lalanne (11.6), Esho (11.3) and Derrick Gordon (10.1) follow suit.

Kellogg said he hoped to see secondary options develop as the season went along, but is also playing the hand that’s dealt to him.

“I adjusted and we adjusted as a team for team’s game-planning for Cady and Maxie,” Kellogg said. “Every time they touched the ball was a double and triple team, especially with Cady in the post and teams chesting up with Maxie.

Multiple players also said the Minutemen have adjusted their offense over the season as well. Both Gordon and Hinds praised the team’s improved passing, saying offensive sets also felt stagnant at the beginning of the season.

Combine that with increased scouting from teams within the conference, and UMass had to adapt. And that meant moving away from continuously running the offense through Lalanne and Esho.

“It changed throughout the season because now teams start scouting you way more,” Lalanne said. “So they’ll send a guy right behind me, a guy in front, a guy right there. You’re not going to get something that beneficial out of it.

“We’re trying to play through everybody else and open it up,” he added.

UMass struggled to open much of anything up against the Hawks in the first encounter. Kellogg said the slow pace of that game hurt both Lalanne and Esho, who play better in space.

The lack of go-to options has freed up points for other members of the Minutemen. It’s something Kellogg has mentioned all season, and now sees it rounding into shape.

“You don’t want to be a one or two-headed team,” he said. “You want to have four, five, maybe even six guys that are playing well.”

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

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