No. 16 UMass looks to break out early against Elon

Last modified: Monday, February 17, 2014
University of Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg feels good about his team’s chances if the game is in the balance in the final minutes. But he said he’d rather stop being in that situation as his team got ready for Saturday’s 7 p.m. game at Elon.

“You obviously don’t want to put yourself in those situations where there are chances to go the other way,” Kellogg said. “Pulling away so things don’t have to come down to the last five seconds would be nice. But road games are tough. George Mason was 5-1 at home. Elon is 7-1 at home. Teams are giving us a little extra when they play us because of our ranking. Would I prefer to have some games that don’t come down to the wire? Absolutely, but when they do come down to the wire, I like my team.

“I feel like we’re fortunate, but the guys have prepared for those endings, not only this year, but over the course of time where we haven’t panicked being down late,” Kellogg continued. “We’ve given ourselves an opportunity. These guys are trying to create our own destiny, even when we’re down. If we’re in the ballgame in the last three or four minutes, we give ourselves a pretty good chance to win. We’ve practiced that quite a bit.”

The 16th-ranked Minutemen (15-1) were in tight games in all three Atlantic 10 games so far, but came from behind to pull out a win each time. Kellogg expected another tough game against the Phoenix. It’s UMass’ final nonconference game.

The Minutemen were supposed to arrive in Elon, a suburb of Greensboro, N.C., in the early afternoon Friday, but mechanical problems on the team’s originating flight caused it to take off late and miss its connection in Washington D.C. By the time they arrived they’d missed their practice time at Alumni Gym.

“We’re probably just going to do a walk-through at the hotel (Friday) and watch tape,” said Kellogg, shortly after landing. “As long as they understand the game plan and pay attention to detail, I think they’ll come ready to play tomorrow. Maybe the noncourt time will do us well.”

The Phoenix (10-8) have won three straight games, including Thursday’s 87-85 overtime win at Davidson. Two of their wins and one of their losses came against non-Division I opponents.

UMass’ ranking isn’t likely to intimidate Elon, which faced then-No. 7 Duke and then-No. 21 Colorado on the road earlier this season. They lost handily to both teams, but this is the first time Alumni Gym (capacity 1,607) has ever hosted a team in the top 25.

Elon is 0-19 all-time against ranked teams.

The school is promoting the event as a white-out: “One Game. One Night. One Color.”

This is the third and final game of the series between the two teams, who have played in three different arenas. UMass opened the 2011-12 season with a win against the Phoenix at Curry Hicks Cage and then held them off in overtime at the MassMutual Center last season.

Lucas Troutman leads Elon with 16.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. He had 14 points and 10 rebounds last year against UMass. He’s one of four Phoenix in double figures along with Sebastian Koch (13.0), Ryley Beaumont (10.6) and Tanner Sampson (10.1).

“It’s taken them a little while to click. They played some games early where they weren’t as good as they are right now,” Kellogg said. “But going on the road and beating Davidson the other night is a huge win for anybody. This is a tough game for us.”

Kellogg thought the atmosphere would help prepare his team for Atlantic 10 play.

“Our guys normally play well when there’s a good crowd. They kind of enjoy that,” Kellogg said. “This will be a good test to get us ready for the smaller gyms at St. Joe’s and St. Bonaventure.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage