UMass men’s basketball transfers have helped Minutemen form new identity on offense

Rich Kelly and C.J. Kelly are leading UMass in 3-pointers

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McKenna Premus/Daily Collegian

By Joseph Aliberti, Assistant Sports Editor

Since transferring to UMass Amherst before the start of the 2021-2022 season, Rich Kelly and C.J. Kelly have helped transform the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s offensive identity into an aerial attack from beyond the arc. Rich Kelly finished with a team-high 25 points and went 6-of-12 from three while C.J. Kelly was quiet with one 3-pointer and five points in the 82-76 loss against Northeastern.

“I knew I had a touch to hit shots, so I just came [into the second half] aggressive and the guys found me for shots,” Rich Kelly said when talking about his 19-point second half.

Rich Kelly is shooting a career high 46.2 percent on his 3-pointers in his graduate season with the Minutemen (6-4). C.J. Kelly is having a career-high in the same category, shooting 54.3 percent.

“As long as we’re playing unselfish on offense, I think we have the firepower to have big nights,” UMass coach Matt McCall said of his team’s offensive identity. “…It can be someone’s night on a given night, it could be someone different on a given night. Tonight, it was Rich [Kelly] and Noah [Fernandes], they exploded. The other night T.J. Weeks had a good night. C.J. [Kelly] has been unbelievable…We just have to stay unselfish.”

Both Kellys along with Trent Buttrick and Dyondre Dominguez have attempted more 3-pointers than 2-pointers this season, which is not a major difference from last year. Carl Pierre, Noah Fernandes and T.J. Weeks all did the same as starters.

The major difference is the percentage in which this team is making them at in comparison to last year. The Minutemen raised its percentage from 32.6 last season to 41.4 as a collective unit so far this season. C.J. and Rich Kelly are at the forefront of the charge, hitting a team-high 26 and 24 3-pointers this season.

“I think [C.J. Kelly, Trent Buttrick and I] all are guys that throw up reps on our own time, we’re confident,” Rich Kelly said of the success from three this season. “And I think the other guys on the team are confident in all of us to knock down shots. Most of our shots are going to be if a guy makes a great play, gets in the lane and kicks out to us and we’re open for a three.”

“I think that’s why we take more threes than twos because a lot of times we just trust that if I get in the lane, I’m not going to force up a two if I can draw a help defender, I’m going to kick out for an open three.”

With one assist and two turnovers, Rich Kelly did not have the same success with playmaking as he did with scoring. The entire team finished with 11 assists and turnovers apiece and McCall told media after the loss that he felt UMass was “overdribbling” the basketball, leading to a lack of ball movement. After dishing out 24 assists in the last five games, Rich Kelly struggled to pick apart the Huskies (6-4) defense with his passing.

“They made a concerted effort that when I drove to try to [not play help defense],” Rich Kelly said of his lack of assists. “Sometimes you make five good passes and all five shots go in and sometimes you make five good passes and none of the shots go in, so I thought tonight was one of those nights where I give it to a guy maybe he didn’t hit it.”

Coming into the game averaging the second most points on the team with 14.4, C.J. Kelly found himself in foul trouble, preventing him from making his usual impact. He eventually fouled out late in the second half and logged 19 total minutes, in comparison to his season average of 27. After fully recovering from a knee injury in the preseason, C.J Kelly averaged 17.8 points and shot 62.5 percent from three in the four games before Tuesday night’s loss.

Rich Kelly, C.J. Kelly and the rest of the Minutemen head to Fort Worth, Texas Saturday to take on North Texas in the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic.

 Joey Aliberti can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @JosephAliberti.