Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass’ Keon Thompson shines in win over Albany

Sophomore scores 13 in win
Kalina Kornacki
Daily Collegian (2023)

Question marks loomed over the starting point guard position for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team after the departure of Noah Fernandes. Keon Thompson slammed the door open and got a hold of the position with his performance in the first game of the season, a 92-71 win over Albany (0-1).

Thompson was thrown into the fire as a freshman last year with some injuries at the guard spots and had to take on a lot of unexpected responsibility. He grew with it and now looks to have taken major strides over the offseason.

“I coach to see kids like Keon,” Martin said. “I don’t like to share private stuff about individuals publicly, but I will say this. [Thompson] stood his ground and said, ‘I’m not going anywhere. I belong here.’ He could have left. You don’t lose your last game of season by 40 without there being some kind of dysfunction in your locker room.”

“And he said ‘no, Frank’s my guy, and I came here to help,’ and that’s what he did… That’s why I coach man. Is to watch young people grow. That’s what drew me into coaching. And that’s what kept me in coaching. So I’m sure he’s going to drive me nuts. As you can see, I didn’t yell at him too much today.”

Thompson commanded the UMass (1-0) offense with poise and authority. He finished with 13 points, five rebounds, six assists and no turnovers in the win, shooting 5-of-8 from the floor and adding a pair of steals in 25 minutes of play.

Taking care of the ball was an issue for the Minutemen last season, but Thompson showed that can now be a strength when he’s the primary ballcarrier. His zero turnovers helped keep the team’s tally at just five, which is below their season-low last year. It took UMass until the 4:16 mark in the first half to turn it over for the first time, a big reason why the Minutemen won the turnover battle 18-5.

“That’s a big thing with us,” Rahsool Diggins said. “We’ve got a lot of young guards and we play really fast, so the big key is to take care of the ball and that’s something that coach Frank leans on older guys to do.”

Thompson’s relationship with UMass’ other starting guard, Diggins, was a positive for the Minutemen all night. Despite being similar guards with jumpers yet to be proven as reliable, they manage to fit on the court so well together it looks like they have one brain.

“Me and ‘Key’ [Thompson] have grown a lot together, that’s my roommate,” Diggins said. “We feed off each other. I know what he likes to do. I know where he sees me at once both sides of the court. I think us having a year of experience with coach Frank gives us a nod over all the freshmen so I think we just lean on each other.”

Another positive aspect of Thompson’s performance was his ability to take it off the dribble and get past his defender. He didn’t show such an ability all that often last year. Now, he’s still as strong but looks quicker and more in control.

His improved burst is complemented by reliable finishing at the rim on both hands and through contact, and he got to the rack at will against Albany’s guard-heavy lineup.

“I thought they were great,” Martin said of Diggins and Thompson. “[Diggins] and [Thompson], they’re in a great space mentally, they’re connected to me, they’re connected to our team, they help their teammates and they’re aggressive as heck.

“It’s a 30-point game and [Thompson] went headfirst into the sidelines going after a loose ball, created a dunk [for Diggins] and it was all him. That’s the kind of energy that he brings every day. I know his teammates respect the heck out of him.”

Pedro Gray Soares can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @P_GraySoares.

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