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UMass men's basketball wins as three players suspended

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
Cady Lalanne, right, seen here during practice in September, 
was one of three University University of Massachusetts players suspended for Saturday's 87-82 exhibition-game win over American International College at the Mullins Center.  Freddie Riley, second from right, scored 21 points, including six 3-pointers.

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Cady Lalanne, right, seen here during practice in September, was one of three University University of Massachusetts players suspended for Saturday's 87-82 exhibition-game win over American International College at the Mullins Center. Freddie Riley, second from right, scored 21 points, including six 3-pointers. Purchase photo reprints »

AMHERST - From the moment the University of Massachusetts announced that three of its men’s basketball players were suspended for Saturday’s exhibition game against American International College for an undisclosed violation of team rules, any real chance to evaluate the Minutemen landed on the sidelines along with Jesse Morgan, Cady Lalanne and Trey Davis.

The only big-picture truth that can really be ascertained is that UMass isn’t deep enough to lose three key pieces of their rotation which makes the Minutemen no different than pretty much any team in America. All three are expected back for the Nov. 13 opener against Harvard (10 a.m. Mullins Center) and real conclusions about UMass’ potential will have to wait until then.

But there were plenty of smaller noteworthy points to take from Saturday’s 87-82 win:

• The biggest positive for the Minutemen was Freddie Riley. The senior’s shooting stroke, which had shown up only occasionally last year was on full display as he made six of 10 3-point attempts en route to 21 points.

If Riley enters the season with renewed confidence, that’s a huge bonus for UMass.

“It was pretty good for my confidence,” Riley said. “I felt more like myself. Last season I didn’t shoot too well. This was good for my confidence to shoot well. It really did feel like I was back to my normal playing ways.”

• Chaz Williams appeared to be in good shape and ready go. With just two guards dressed for the game, the junior point guard played 38 minutes. He was perhaps a little overhyped early, throwing a few ill-advised passes, but when things got tense, Williams was very much in control of the game. He finished with 24 points and 11 assists (three turnovers).

“I was just looking to get my teammates involved and keep the game intact,” Williams said. “I was just being aggressive.”

• The Minuteman defense and rebounding aren’t where coach Derek Kellogg would like them to be. The Yellow Jackets scored 30 points in the paint despite being undersized, and 17 on second chances. AIC outrebounded UMass 37-36.

The caveat of course is that the Minutemen’s best interior player (Lalanne) and best individual defender (Morgan) weren’t on the floor.

“We have plenty of work to do. We’re still not in game shape. Our rebounding was poor at times and our half-court defense, we just weren’t physical enough,” Kellogg said.

“That’s what bothered me the most,” he added. “We let them get too many second-chance points and defensive rebounds. There was a lot of not paying attention to detail and I thought our energy and intensity could be better. It’s good that we learned from a game we were able to win.”

• Raphiael Putney is still foul prone. The junior forward fouled out in just 18 minutes. He did have eight points and eight rebounds in those 18 minutes.

His absence meant more time for Sampson Carter, who had seven points, five rebounds and three assists in his first game action after missing most of last season with a hip injury.

• Kellogg might want to think about adding a walk-on guard or two. With Javorn Farrell injured and Derrick Gordon sitting out as a transfer, the Minutemen have just four real guards. An injury to any one of them will make practicing on the road difficult, especially at the pace UMass wants to play.

• Both freshmen big men would benefit from playing against guys closer to their own size. Against the Yellow Jackets’ lineup, which would be very undersized by Division I standards, Tyler Bergantino and Izzy Freeman struggled at times to guard much smaller players.

“Those young guys just aren’t ready yet when a team plays four guards and a hybrid five-man,” Kellogg said. “That makes it hard to really gauge where they are.”

• Lalanne, who was on the bench along with Morgan and Davis, had a brace on a finger on his right hand. Kellogg said it wasn’t serious.

“He’s had it on for four or five days now,” Kellogg said. “He has a jammed finger.”

• While the exhibition game didn’t count in any standings, the Minutemen cared about the result.

“I’m just glad we were able to win the game,” Riley said. “We don’t want to come out here and lose and embarrass the school and embarrass the program. When we play this game, we’re looked at as the team that’s going to win.”

• Rarely does the opposing coach in an exhibition game make news in his postgame press conference, but AIC’s Art Luptowski delivered a pair of memorable quotes.

His team played Connecticut on Thursday and stayed with the Huskies for much of the game before UConn pulled away late. He compared the Minutemen and Huskies with no prompting.

“I quite frankly think UMass is a better team,” he said. “No disrespect to UConn, but at the end of the day I think UMass is a better basketball team. They’re more experienced.”

Luptowski also said that Kellogg’s willingness to play AIC in an exhibition game reminded him of a legend, albeit one who is not so popular with Minuteman fans.

“Derek Kellogg, in his own way, is a young Jim Calhoun,” Luptowski said. “He’s a stand-up guy who gives the game to AIC which is the right thing to do. It’s a local Division II school ... He’s a Springfield guy doing something for a Springfield school.”

Kellogg laughed.

“I appreciate that. Jim Calhoun is obviously a legend in the game,” Kellogg said. “Anybody that would compare me to him is a little premature.”

Even more premature than trying to evaluate UMass from this game.

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

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