Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s basketball looks to get back on track against struggling Saint Louis Wednesday

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(Imogen Fairs/ Daily Collegian)

(Imogen Fairs/ Daily Collegian)

Nine seasons ago, Saint Louis coach Travis Ford was in the midst of leading the Massachusetts men’s basketball team to a 25-11 record and a National Invitational Tournament Finals appearance where the Minutemen fell to Ohio State 92-85.

A month later, Ford accepted the head coaching position at Oklahoma State and with that, the Derek Kellogg era began at UMass.

Wednesday will mark the first time Ford takes on the team he coached for three seasons from 2005-08 as the Minutemen (12-8, 2-5 Atlantic 10) travel to Chaifetz Arena to take on the Billikens (5-14, 1-6 A-10).

Ford admits that there is still a place in his heart for his time in Amherst and he has lots of respect for the strides being made on the court at UMass.

“A lot of time has passed, but I still have a lot of great relationships in Amherst and at UMass. It’s a place I absolutely loved for three years and I don’t think people don’t fully grasp how much we did enjoy it,” Ford said during the weekly A-10 media teleconference.

“There’s still some emotions there, no doubt about, just for the love we had being there and the people there. But there has been a lot of time that has passed and Derek has done a terrific job out there.”

On the court, both teams have struggled to find any consistent success throughout the first seven games of conference play. The Minutemen currently sit tied for 12th in the A-10 while SLU ranks last. The Billikens lone conference win came Jan. 14 against George Mason where they topped the Patriots 63-56.

Coming off a nail-biting 71-68 loss to Fordham Saturday, UMass will be looking to get back on track against SLU. Turnovers were a major problem for the Minutemen against the Rams and point guard DeJon Jarreau was one of the major culprits in that regard with eight turnovers.

Kellogg, who is a former collegiate point guard himself, knows that it’s a learning curve for any point guard at this level.

“There is more of a learning curve back in the day so they weren’t kind of throwing these freshmen, especially point guards, right into the mix,” Kellogg said. “The only thing you can really do is continue to put him out there in those situations and in practice try to emulate some of the things they’ll see.”

Despite the struggles that Jarreau had controlling the ball against Fordham, Kellogg’s confidence in his freshman point guard has not wavered.

“I’m sticking with him. I think he’s going to be really good and continue to improve and get better,” Kellogg said. “For a little while in that game he was the best player and for a little while he did some things that were very, very young.”

A highlight in the game against the Rams was the trio of alley-oop dunks from Jarreau to forward Brison Gresham. Kellogg has been impressed with Gresham and is hoping to see similar effort out of the big man against the Billikens Wednesday.

“I think he’s kind of understanding how to play at this level. I think he’s starting to realize how hard you have to play all the time to be successful,” Kellogg said. “I’m not sure if high school guys [have] that coming in. He’s kind of coming into his own. I have pretty high expectations for him.”

SLU comes into Wednesday’s matchup struggling on the offensive end as they are the only team in the A-10 averaging less than 60 points, scoring 59.8 points per game. The Billikens are led offensively by Davell Roby with 10.4 ppg. Their top scorer, Jermaine Bishop, has been out with an ankle injury since mid-December.

UMass comes into the game with the best field goal percentage defense in the conference, so it will look to exploit that against the struggling Billikens.

Going into Wednesday’s game, Kellogg is just looking for his team to improve upon their previous performance.

“You don’t want to have them bounce back too many times,” Kellogg said. “But these guys do love to play the game, I think they are young enough and are still at, at least the majority of them, that this is what it takes to bounce back and do those things and I’m sure they are going to come to practice today with good attitudes and want to learn to get better from last week.”

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. 

Adam Aucoin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @aaucoin34.

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