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Raphiael Putney, UMass look to get going against Duquesne

AMHERST — Raphiael Putney’s been waiting all season for things to snap back into place.

The University of Massachusetts junior wing, who had a breakout season last year with 10.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, has struggled this year with averages of 6.7 points and 4.8 boards.

After Tuesday’s revelation that Jesse Morgan will miss the remainder of the season with an ACL tear, Putney hoped to help make up for the loss of Morgan’s production.

“I was the team’s second leading scorer last year. I took a step back this year. If the opportunity comes, I have to give more of myself for the team,” said Putney, who isn’t sure why he’s slumped this year. “I don’t know. My offense isn’t coming this year as it was last year. I still believe it’s still going to come. We’re still early in our conference season. I’m just going to keep working and having faith in myself scoring the basketball. It has been frustrating because I’m not used to going like this. But it’s all for a cause and I just have to keep working.”

Putney has shown glimpses of last year’s promise, most notably a 20-point, nine-rebound game in UMass’ 70-69 win over Miami (Ohio). The Minutemen (11-4, 1-1 Atlantic 10) host Duquesne (7-9, 0-2) today at 7 p.m. and Putney hoped to use it as a launching pad.

“Now would be a pretty good time, especially with the injury to Jesse. I have to pick it up and do what I have to do,” said Putney, who thought avoiding quick fouls would be a step in the right direction. “I have to be smart on defense and not get into foul trouble. I have to keep myself in the game. If I can get into rhythm and get touches, I can get a better feel for what I want to do on the offensive end.”

The slump hasn’t consumed Putney, according to UMass coach Derek Kellogg.

“His head seems to be in a good place. I’ve seen guys go into the tank fully. Their attitude changes and they’re not fun people to be around,” Kellogg said. “He’s been a little disappointed in the numbers he’s put up. But the good thing is, (if he bounces back) it gives us a chance to have some upside here.

“I’m not worried about him going in the tank. He’s got a good personality. I’ve seen guys that all they really care about is themselves and scoring,” Kellogg continued. “He’s more selfless. He’s a good kid. I hope he plays better for his own personal goals and the team goals.”

Like Miami (Ohio), Duquesne should present Putney with an opportunity to break out as the Dukes figure to be a willing partner in UMass’ desire to play uptempo.

“They get up and down and play a lot of guys who can score the ball on the perimeter. That’s a concern especially where we’re thin back there,” Kellogg said. “It’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment as the game goes on.”

Because of the Minutemen’s dwindling depth and their desire to continue to play uptempo, Kellogg said he has to manage how much his team can practice.

“There’s only so much time you can practice. I’m trying to keep the guys fresh. Let’s focus on what’s important. Let’s do what we do and hope we don’t get thrust into too many situations,” Kellogg said. “We’re probably not as good in a few areas as I’d like to be, but I’d rather have the guys be fresh and have energy for the game than get in two more side out-of-bounds plays.”

After starting the year 7-5, highlighted by a win over West Virginia on Dec. 11, the Dukes arrive on a four-game losing streak. They dropped their first two league games to Fordham and Saint Joseph’s. Duquesne is 1-6 on the road this year.

Freshman guard Derrick Colter and senior guard Sean Johnson share Duquesne’s scoring lead at 13.3 points per game. Defense has been a problem for Duquesne, which allows 73.4 points per game, second worst in the league. The Dukes don’t guard the 3-point line well as opponents have shot 38.9 percent.

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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