UMass men’s basketball looks to regain shooting touch, work ball into post

By Anthony Chiusano

(#5 Jabarie Hinds, #45 Rashaan Holloway. Alec Zabrecky/ Daily Collegian)
(#5 Jabarie Hinds, #45 Rashaan Holloway. Alec Zabrecky/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s undefeated record and two-game hot shooting streak ended with a thud over Thanksgiving break with a 97-76 loss last Wednesday to Creighton in the finals of the MGM Grand Main Event tournament in Las Vegas.

Now toward the tail end of its six-day break from action – following a period of playing four games in nine days – UMass (4-1) has focused on using its extended time off to refresh and regroup for Wednesday night’s matchup against Boston University.

“I think we were exhausted coming back from Las Vegas. As coach (John Calipari) always used to say, if I feel a certain way as a head coach, I can only imagine how they feel from the travel and the energy and excitement in playing so many games in such a short period of time,” Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg said. “I think we were all tired.”

UMass entered last Wednesday’s game coming off back-to-back games in which it tied a program record twice, with 16 three-pointers made against both Central Arkansas and Clemson. Over the two-game stretch, the Minutemen shot a combined 50.4 percent from the field.

But in the loss to the Bluejays, UMass finished 3-of-16 from behind the arc and struggled to convert on open shots and early layup opportunities. The Minutemen shot 39 percent from the field, their lowest mark this season.

“Everybody wasn’t making their shots. I missed at least three or four layups and four free throws, so my shots weren’t falling,” UMass guard Donte Clark said before Monday’s practice.

“We just have to keep working toward the point that got us to the championship game. We have to get the bigs more involved as far as getting them touches in the inside and working our way back out to get us open shots.”

Clark (25 points) was one of three Minutemen to score more than 20 points against the Tigers in last Monday’s 82-65 win. In Wednesday’s loss, Clark finished 2-of-12 from the floor including 0-of-4 from 3-point range.

Starting point guard Jabarie Hinds also struggled to find his touch early, scoring 12 points on 3-of-7 shooting against Creighton.

“My coaches talked to me after the game and told me some stuff that I need to do that I could’ve done better. I just have to be more aggressive and play smart also now,” Hinds said. “Teams are going to be aiming for me, Trey (Davis) and Donte so I’m just going to try to do the little things to get me where I want to be on the court.”

Hinds added: “Now we know how teams are going to guard us, because we’re shooting the ball early in the year. We just have to do the little things, smarter plays, set more screens.”

Kellogg said Wednesday’s loss showed that the Minutemen cannot rely on 3-point shooting to find consistent success. He added that as his more experienced backcourt pieces continue to see added pressure on the perimeter from opposing defenses, UMass must look inside to its young frontcourt more often.

“(We have to) figure out some ways to score if the 3s aren’t going down or if they’re staying connected to Jabarie, Trey or Donte,” Kellogg said. “We have to post the ball a little bit and get some baskets on the inside.”

This approach starts with freshmen centers Rashaan Holloway and Malik Hines, who have averaged five and 1.8 points per game respectively. Both have battled foul trouble and been slow to acclimate to the collegiate level of play through the Minutemen’s opening five games.

According to Davis, finding offensive success in the paint will open up opportunities on the perimeter for the guards. He added that the big men’s improved passing abilities will also allow for easy layups and shots close to the basket.

“Getting the ball down low is going to open us up for 3s,” Davis said. “We don’t want to be a team known for not getting balls in the post. We want to have a presence down there and we want to establish that over the next couple of games.”

He added: “Once they start going they might get some double teams on them, and we have some nice slashers on our team. We just have to use that to the best of our ability.”

No update on potential walk-ons

UMass has been short on depth, especially in the front court, all season with Holloway and Hines standing as the only two true centers for the Minutemen following Texas A&M transfer Antwan Space’s unexpected announcement that he would take an indefinite leave from the team five days before the season opened.

In response to this lack of depth, Kellogg said earlier this month that the team would explore adding walk-on players as reinforcement. Before Monday afternoon’s practice, Kellogg said while nothing is scheduled, he expects some sort of tryout to be arranged for walk-ons once all necessary paperwork is accounted for.

One option would be UMass football player James Sosinski, a 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman quarterback who expressed interest in walking on last year. Kellogg gave no update on Sosinski’s prospects but said he’d see how it progresses now that the football season is over.

“Because the school has been closed, we haven’t been able to get some of the paperwork stuff through,” Kellogg said. “Now that we’re back in operation, I think something is going to go on as far as a walk-on tryout or bringing in some guys to see if they fit.”

Anthony Chiusano can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @a_chiusano24.