Much of UMass men’s basketball’s success moving forward rides on DeJon Jarreau

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(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

When starting lineups were announced prior to Saturday’s game against George Mason, the Massachusetts men’s basketball starting five was without Donte Clark for the first time all season. Point guard DeJon Jarreau, like Clark, has been a lock in the starting lineup this season despite spurts of not playing well, especially in conference play.

Though Jarreau was in the lineup to start Saturday’s game, he did not last very long. UMass (12-10, 2-7 Atlantic 10) coach Derek Kellogg pulled him only one minute, 38 seconds into the game in favor of Clark off the bench.

To that point, Jarreau had missed a layup and 3-pointer, and already committed two turnovers, something that has plagued him this season. A combination of the three forced Kellogg to take him out.

“I didn’t think he started the game off with the fire I was looking for,” Kellogg said. “Then he had a missed 3, which was a decent shot, and then two turnovers to start the game. That’s not really what I’m looking for out of my starting point guard and the guy that I’m relying on to play well.”

Starting off games slow has been a theme for the Minutemen this season as UMass has been outscored by A-10 opponents 328-300 in the first half of games. Jarreau – who’s performance, according to Kellogg, plays a large factor into how the Minutemen fair in their games – has had a few poor starts this past month. Three times, all within the last five games, Jarreau has scored zero points in the first half against GMU, Saint Louis and Saint Joseph’s.

“The first half is like figuring out the game and feeling my way through it,” Jarreau said. “It could be bad. It could be good. The second half I just feel more comfortable. I just feel like the game has came to me.”

With that said, it is no surprise that 125 of Jarreau’s 190 points this season have come in the second half where on many occasions UMass managed to make the game interesting.

It’s not just Jarreau’s ability to score that makes him look like a completely different player in the second half. In nine conference games this season, Jarreau put together 25 assists along with eight steals and nine blocks just in the second half. When he is at his best, he is not only scoring but he is also making presence known on the defensive side of the ball.

One of the most important stats, though, is that in the second half Jarreau has only totaled 13 turnovers, which is a tremendous improvement from the 23 he has in the first half of A-10 games.

“He had some stretches where honestly he looks like he’s the best player on the floor and then he’s had some stretches where he doesn’t look so good,” Kellogg said. “I’m trying to get those stretches of the [Jarreau] I know more often, and more often and more often and it’s just not enough yet for us to be winning games.”

As seen by his Minutemen-leading 95 assists, Jarreau likes to facilitate the scoring as much as he likes putting up points himself. Also with a team-high 70 turnovers, sometimes he tries a bit too hard to make something happen. Some of that could just be a product of being a freshman starter.

“Young guys are looking for that homerun play, I’m trying to get some singles and maybe a few doubles here and there,” Kellogg said. “But I’ve asked him to be more aggressive, but being more aggressive doesn’t always mean make the home run play.

“He’s doing a good job in the second halves when he calms down of picking his spots, but still not enough to where he’s exactly where I want him to be at this point.”

Jarreau said the difference in pace of the game between high school and college is “exactly what I expected,” and that his ball control is a fixable problem.

“Yeah sometimes I’ve made some crazy turnovers, but that’s all fixable things, so it isn’t something that we can’t fix,” Jarreau said.

Kellogg, who was a point guard himself for UMass from 1991-1995, knows a little a bit of what Jarreau is going through and has spent a lot of time with him to work on what the freshman point guard lacks. Kellogg expects that Jarreau will figure it out.

“You have to play through this stuff,” Kellogg said. “Pray and hope he keeps getting better and when that light clicks on, I’m not sure exactly when that’s going to be – I said that about Rashaan [Holloway], it kind of click on and now it’s flickering a little bit and it’s going to re-click. I think the same thing will be true for [Jarreau] because he has enough talent to be a special player for us.”

Philip Sanzo can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Philip_Sanzo.