UMass men’s basketball using late-game situations as learning opportunities for remainder of season

By Andrew Cyr

Mayank Mishra/Collegian
Mayank Mishra/Collegian

Through the early portion of the 2016-17 season, Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg has used the first seven games to get the pulse of the young Minutemen; for who’s maturing at different speeds, as well as what rotations or combinations of players work better than others at different times during a game.

However, mapping out the different substitution patterns hasn’t been the only thing Kellogg and UMass (5-2) have benefitted from thus far. They have also, over the season’s opening weeks, had the benefit of preparing themselves for Atlantic 10 play.

Through seven games this year, the Minutemen have had five single-digits contests, four of which have been decided by four points or fewer. UMass is 2-2 in games decided by four points or fewer, with last-minute wins against Temple and Harvard, while falling in the final seconds to both Mississippi and Central Florida.

“Honestly, I like the fact that we are having these tough games early on,” guard C.J. Anderson said. “It’s going to help you further down the road in conference and you know how to play – you know what helps you win that game.”

Forward Seth Berger, who, along with Anderson, has been on the court in late-game situations because of their versatility and ability to cover multiple different positions, also believes these close games are helping prepare the young core for A-10 play.

“Once conference play comes around, every game is going to be a battle like that,” Berger said. “Being able to be tested like that is good because that’s just the reality of it, a lot of games are going to be won in the last few minutes of the game.”

Against the Crimson and Owls, the difference maker in both games was the Minutemen’s ability to make shots in the final minutes.

In the game against Temple, freshman DeJon Jarreau drilled a game-winning 3-pointer with 34 seconds remaining to give UMass a victory. Against Harvard, it was Donte Clark’s – and the rest of the Minutemen’s – free throw shooting and offensive rebound that secured the win for UMass.

“I think the players are learning, somewhat on the fly because you can only go through so many different situations in practice,” Kellogg said.

“We’ve had some weird lineups in at the end of some of those games just for matchup problems or whatever. But I think also as a coach you start learning about what guys are good in certain spots, who can watch what you draw on the [clipboard] and execute after a timeout, who’s the maybe the best guy to cover the ball as they’re coming up.”

In the loss against the Rebels Nov. 14, Clark’s jumper with 3:49 remaining was the last time UMass would score after he fouled out on the following defensive possession. Ole Miss closed the game on an 11-0 run in the Minutemen’s first loss of the season.

Last Saturday against UCF, Clark’s game-tying 3-pointer with 14 seconds left was of no avail after Knights forward Nick Banyard heaved a desperation 3 with six tenths of a second remaining to sink UMass 65-62.

“I think there’s three or four adjustments we’re already making and I’m making as a coach to say ‘alright, this is a couple things I know would be better if we did it this way, or let’s continue to do that,’” Kellogg said.

The Minutemen went 8-5 last season in games decided by single digits.

“I think there are some lineups for us that are the best defensive lineups if a team is playing a certain style or certain sized guys,” Kellogg added.

Both Anderson and Berger are players Kellogg turns to in the final minutes of tight games, especially in defensive purposes given their ability to defend multiple positions on the floor. Anderson can cover the point guard through power forward positions on defense, while Berger has proven to defend both perimeter and interior players.

“I was sort of fighting [the assignment covering all different positions on the court] through the first two years, but I talked to [Kellogg] about it and he’s just helped me be more comfortable and has been encouraging me about it,” Anderson said.

Berger, whose production doesn’t often translate to numbers in the box score, knows his role on the team isn’t to lead the team in scoring or other statistical categories.

“The only box score that matters to me is winning,” Berger said. “Whatever I have to do to help that; whether it be deflections, tips, getting a tip to someone who gets the rebound, giving the pass to someone who gets the assist, things like that.”

“Like I said, the one thing I want to do is win because I know that winning leads to anything and everyone else being noticed.”

Andrew Cyr can be reached at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.