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UMass men’s basketball faces challenge of limiting Saint Joseph’s DeAndre’ Bembry

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(Donte Clark defends against St Joseph's DeAndre Bembry. Cade Belisle/ Daily Collegian)

(Donte Clark defends against St Joseph’s DeAndre Bembry. Collegian File Photo)

Any time there’s a comparison made with LeBron James, the all-world forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers, it’s high praise.

That compliment is exactly what Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg placed on Saint Joseph’s DeAndre’ Bembry before Monday’s practice, referring to the junior forward’s versatility and “do-it-all” role for the Hawks (16-3, 5-1 Atlantic 10).

UMass (8-10, 1-5 A-10) will be tasked with trying to slow down Bembry when it travels to Philadelphia Wednesday night as the Minutemen attempt to snap their five-game losing streak stretching back to Jan. 3.

“I’ve said it for three years now, I think (Bembry) is one of the best pro prospects in our league with how big he is and how multi-skilled he is. He does it on defense, he gets rebounds and he’s a great player,” Kellogg said. “He’s the reason why they’ve made the jump from their run a couple years ago to where they are now.”

Bembry is averaging 17.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game over the Hawks’ first 19 contests this season. But it is against UMass where Bembry has shined the brightest over his first three years.

The Charlotte, North Carolina native has averaged more than 21 points per game in his four matchups against the Minutemen since his 2013-14 freshman season. In the last head-to-head matchup on Feb. 25, 2015, Bembry went off for a career-high 33 points along with 14 rebounds in Saint Joseph’s win.

“Bembry’s looked like an NBA All Star against us at times,” Kellogg said.
He added: “He’s playing better now. He’s got to be up there as one of the best players in the country. You’ve got to make the game hard for him and make him beat you from the outside, which unfortunately for the last two years, he’s hit 3s against us.”

Kellogg reiterated the challenge of limiting Bembry since he contributes in a multitude of ways outside of scoring. He added that he sees matching up against Bembry as an opportunity for multiple Minutemen to step up on defense.

“There’s a lot of guys who need to get challenged a little bit and can step up to it, maybe like a Donte (Clark) to say, ‘Hey, he’s here and let’s see where you’re at. Go compete against this guy,’” Kellogg said. “I’m not 100 percent sure of who’s going to start on him and go after him because he gets a lot of his stuff just playing basketball … He’s unique in that they don’t need to run a ton of stuff for him and all of a sudden he has 26 (points) and 12 (rebounds).”

Clark, a 6-foot-4 guard who also grew up in Charlotte, said he welcomes the challenge.

“He’s probably the toughest one-on-one matchup in the A-10 right now,” Clark said. “We grew up in the same spot. He’s from Charlotte too so it’s always a pretty good rivalry playing against your friends.

“He just plays hard so I have to play harder than he is to match his intensity and be better. Whoever is the one working harder is going to win.”

UMass junior forward Seth Berger, standing at 6-foot-8, is also expected to see time guarding Bembry (6-foot-6). Berger has started the last seven games at the four-position.

“Ever since I’ve been here, he’s been their guy. That’ll be fun. That’s always been a tough matchup and he’s a team player so we’ll try to slow him down,” Berger said. “Great players aren’t just effective with their scoring. His defense, his rebounding, he passes the ball well, so it’s a lot more than just containing his scoring.”

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

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