UMass men’s basketball successfully drops La Salle 84-71 in confidence-building win

By Philip Sanzo

Dejon Jarreau blocking his opponent from getting the ball. (Jong Man Kim/Daily Collegian)

Heading into Sunday’s game against La Salle, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team had little left to lose. Its 3-12 Atlantic 10 record made it certain the Minutemen will be playing Wednesday, Mar. 8, as one of the bottom four seeds in the conference. Despite this, they played arguably their best game all season, defeating the Explorers 84-71.

UMass (14-15, 4-12 Atlantic 10) has failed to successfully play a whole 40-minute game for much of its conference games. So, when the Minutemen put together a 12-0 run to close out the first half with a 40-35 lead, one could not help but think when they were going to fall apart.

The five-point lead stretched to eight when Malik Hines completed a put-back layup two minutes, 42 seconds into the second half. However, an Amar Stukes layup and a B.J. Johnson 3-pointer cut the lead to three and the game showed signs of turning in the Explorers’ (14-13, 8-8 A-10) favor.

Instead of a collapse the Minutemen began a rally, building a lead that would reach as high as 15 points. UMass coach Derek Kellogg said he was pleased with how closely his team paid attention to detail.

“It’s really just playing for 40 just trying to close a game out,” Kellogg said. “We’ve played good at different junctures for 32 minutes, 34 minutes, 29 minutes, whatever you might want to call it. And I’ve been talking to these guys about a full 40, try to make plays and do the right thing, and not do those crazy mistakes that just cost you four or five points in a row.”

The starting lineup was far from what UMass has put out all season. Kellogg decided to go with Zach Lewis, C.J. Anderson, Ty Flowers, Brison Gresham and Malik Hines, a result of the “red team” beating the “black team” in practice. Much of the Minutemen’s success came from their transfer guard Lewis, who scored a career high 37 points.

Lewis had a strong first half in his last two games against George Washington and La Salle, but the real difference was what he did in the second half. Against GW, Lewis did not score a single point in the second half following a 16-point performance in the first. The same could not be said against the Explorers; he scored 18 of his 37 points after halftime.

It was no secret that the Minutemen had been struggling from behind the 3-point line all season. The team’s 30.4 percent 3-point shooting is the worst in the A-10, but that was not the case Sunday.

UMass hit 11 of its 20 3’s with DeJon Jarreau going a perfect 4-for-4 from beyond the 3-point line.

“I was just shooting with confidence,” Jarreau said. “I saw that some were going in. I was like ‘I can shoot this one and this one might go in.’ It’s a confidence thing with me with shooting. Everything just fell into place today.”

Despite not starting, Jarreau scored 20 points hitting seven of his eight shots. Kellogg believes that the performances from Jarreau and Lewis were big confidence builders for his team.

“Obviously on these runs that we’ve had teams make against us, we haven’t put the ball in the basket,” Kellogg said. “So to see [Lewis] make plays for us, get to the free throw line, even [Jarreau] making a couple of 3’s and loosen things up. I think that’s huge for us and to have that happen this late in the year I think it shows that we still have some confidence and fight left in us to try and make a run here.”

While Lewis’ and Jarreau’s performances were apparent on the stat sheets, Donte Clark had a much more productive day than his one point in the box score suggests.

“[Clark] got a bunch of minutes in the second half and he tried to win the basketball game, let’s call it what it is, let’s try win and not worry so much across the board of points, assists whatever it might be, let’s figure out a way to win and I thought Donte was a good part of that in the second half,” Kellogg said.

According to Kellogg, the win serves as a good place to build off of heading into the final two games of the season against Richmond and St. Bonaventure—two top five A-10 teams.

“I think we’re at least in a good frame of mind,” Kellogg said. “The guys have really competed in practice and that’s why I started the red team, they beat the black team in practice and they won the starting job, so we’ll continue to do that.”

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