Freddie Riley ignites crowd, Minutemen with 3-point shooting
Freddie Riley of the University of Massachusetts, right, shoots against J.R. Sims of Eastern Michigan Saturday at the Mullins Center. Purchase photo reprints »
Chaz Williams of the University of Massachusetts, center, passes away from Matt Balkema of Eastern Michigan Saturday at the Mullins Center. Purchase photo reprints »
AMHERST — Anytime Freddie Riley makes a 3-pointer, especially early, there’s a buzz of anticipation in the Mullins Center. During four years of watching the University of Massachusetts senior guard, the fans know that one made 3 can start an avalanche for the streaky shooter.
So after the first one dropped in Saturday and Riley elevated for the second, most of the 5,060 fans at the Mullins Center paid extra attention.
The second one went in and so did the third. Riley was hot. The Eastern Michigan bench yelled “shooter” whenever Riley touched the ball reminding its players to guard him tightly. But it didn’t matter. The third came with a hand in his face.
Junior point guard Chaz Williams started hunting for him.
“You’ve got to give Fred the ball when he’s on fire. It’s like he got a little red match under his feet and he just keeps scoring,” Williams said. “Once he gets his roll going, you’ve just got to keep going to him, so that’s what I was trying to do.”
After each made shot, the crowd roared a little louder. Riley made five in a row as part of a 17-3 run that gave the Minutemen the lead for good in the 75-61 win over the Eagles.
“To see Freddie go on a Freddie Riley-esque run was fantastic,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said.
In the past, Kellogg had used Riley as almost the offensive equivalent of a gimmick defense. If it works, stick with it. If not try something else. He’d play Riley if he was making shots, but use somebody else if he was off the mark.
“In years previous, it was only when he was hot, to a certain extent. If he makes his first couple, we stay with him,” Kellogg said. “He’s actually becoming a good basketball player. Defensively, he’s really getting after it.
“I think he’s driving the ball in the paint and being strong,” Kellogg added. “He was on fire in the first half and actually gave up a couple of 3s to get Jesse (Morgan) some shots. That’s something that it’s nice to see. It really is nice to see a kid mature and grow up and get older and become a better basketball player.”
Riley, who finished with 18 points on six 3-pointers, said he does not focus on made shots anymore when evaluating his performance.
“I just look at whether the team won or not and whether I played good defense or not,” Riley said. “My shots haven’t been falling that much this season, so I’ve just been wanting to play good defense and that’s been happening. So I’ve been happy with my performance. I’m just happier off the court and it’s translating on the court.
“I just wanted to come in and play confident,” he said. “The shots went in, so I just kept shooting. But if they wouldn’t have gone in, then I would have tried to make better plays to get my teammates involved more.”
Riley now was 179 career made 3-pointers, sixth most in school history.
STREAKING – UMass (10-3) now has won seven straight games, tying the longest win streak in Kellogg’s tenure. The Minutemen won seven straight to open the 2010-11 season.
UMass won all four games against Mid-American Conference opponents, a schedule requirement created by the Minutemen joining the MAC in football. In six seasons with the same scheduling agreement with the MAC, Temple finished 4-0 only twice.
MISCELLANEOUS – Senior Terrell Vinson was honored before the game for scoring his 1,000th career point last week at Northern Illinois. … Former Minutemen Luke Bonner, Etienne Brower, Chris Kirkland and Matt Pennie all were at Saturday’s game.
Matt Vautour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.