UMass men’s basketball makes lineup change, tops La Salle Sunday at Mullins Center

By Adam Aucoin

Zach Lewis has the ball on Sunday during the game against La Salle. (Jessica Picard/Daily Collegian)

In the days leading up to Massachusetts men’s basketball game against La Salle, the red team (the reserves) beat the black team (the starters) during different drills in practice. As a result of this, UMass coach Derek Kellogg had a decision to make before the Minutemen’s matchup with La Salle Sunday afternoon.

When starting lineups were announced ahead of the game, everyone in attendance could not have been more surprised with who Kellogg decided to trot out to the court for tip off.

Gone was the usual starting five of Rashaan Holloway, Seth Berger, Donte Clark, Luwane Pipkins and DeJon Jarreau and replacing them were teammates Malik Hines, Brison Gresham, Ty Flowers, Zach Lewis and C.J. Anderson.

The lineup change seemed to do dividends for UMass (14-15, 4-12 Atlantic 10) as they came out with inspired play and topped the Explorers (14-13, 8-8 A-10) 84-71 at Mullins Center.

Coming into the game, a lineup change was on Kellogg’s mind and the play of the usual second unit (the red team) in practice forced him to make an adjustment.

“I mean we’ve talked about it at different times, I never just said we’re doing this,” Kellogg said. “After yesterday, it didn’t make sense to me to not put the team that keeps winning in. They’ve won at practice somewhat consistently so I said I’m going with what I’ve been saying for a while, the team that won in practice is going to start.”

Before Sunday’s matchup, the starting five against La Salle had a combined 14 starts on the season; eight for Gresham, three for Lewis and Anderson as both Hines and Flowers had yet to make starts. Kellogg was excited to give those players a chance in a starting role.

“It doesn’t mean you’re not playing or whatever and give some guys who worked all season a chance,” Kellogg said. “I thought it paid huge dividends for Zach Lewis, he came out on fire and played unbelievable basketball.”

Lewis, in particular, took advantage of the opportunity to start. The redshirt junior scored a career-high 37 points, shot 6-for-9 from 3-point range and a perfect 13-for-13 from the free-throw line. His scoring output was three points shy of the Mullins Center record for points scored in a single game set by Trey Davis last season and four points shy of the program record of 41 points set by Billy Tindall in 1968.

The Canisius transfer has gotten off to hot starts before, but in those games cooled off in the second half. On Sunday, he reversed that trend in a big way with 19 and 18 in the first and second half, respectively.

“It was really about being confident and finishing out the game. I played well for one half last game,” Lewis said. “I played bad in the second half. Really during halftime, I was talking to coaches and they just said keep being aggressive and finish out the game.”

Lewis acknowledged the comfort factor of playing with the so-called “red” team.

“All year those are the five guys that we normally practice with. Our camaraderie is definitely there,” Lewis said. “La Salle has a bunch of high levels of transfers and they have Jordan Price as well, that’s a very good team. For us to be the backup five, to start off against their five, we had an extra chip on our shoulders.”

The bench played a critical role in Sunday’s win as well, most prominently guard DeJon Jarreau, who scored 20 points and was a perfect 4-for-4 from 3-point range.

Jarreau believed the lineup change before the game motivated both units to bring their A-game Sunday and that played a major role in the win.

“It was a good thing that we did that because like he said they do well at practice every day, like every day. It’s a good confidence builder for those guys and us too coming off the bench,” Jarreau said. “It’s like we have to step up more and for them, they have to keep that job. So it’s a good thing that they get the start and we come off the bench and it’s like everybody is coming with that fire.”

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