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Raphiael Putney hopes Mullins Center ends slump

Raphiael Putney, right, will look to break out of his shooting slump Saturday, when UMass hosts Miami.

Raphiael Putney, right, will look to break out of his shooting slump Saturday, when UMass hosts Miami. Purchase photo reprints »

AMHERST — Raphiael Putney launched shot after high-arching shot from different spots behind the 3-point line Friday, trying to work his way out of a shooting slump before Saturday’s 2 p.m. game against Miami at the Mullins Center.

The University of Massachusetts junior forward made 2-of-4 3s against Harvard as part of a 13-point effort on 4-for-6 shooting in the opener.

Since then his scoring has dropped to 10 points each against Providence and North Carolina State, six against Tennessee and none against Siena. Since Harvard, Putney is 2-for-10 from behind the arc, well down from last year’s .373 percentage from 3-point range.

“Last game I didn’t play to my potential. This game I’m trying to step it up and be the player I can be,” Putney said. “I have to be more aggressive this year for my team. I just have to get back to how I used to play last year.”

UMass coach Derek Kellogg thought focusing on the rest of his game would spur Putney’s scoring.

“I’m prodding him to focus on his defense, rebounding and shot-blocking and he’ll start making more 3s and getting more in the flow offensively. He’s had a little bit of a rough go here, but we’ve all seen what he’s capable of doing when he plays at a high level,” Kellogg said. “He’s just got to mentally get focused a little bit more and do some of the little things that will get him going offensively.”

Putney hoped the Minutemen’s first home game in 18 days might spark him.

“I feel more comfortable shooting at home that I do when we’re away. The atmosphere makes me play better,” he said.

Junior point guard Chaz Williams thought Putney was ready to break out.

“Stretch is pulling through. He’s had a couple of off games. I know he’s a great player and he’s going to come through in the next couple of games for us,” Williams said. “I’ll always go to him. I have confidence in him. I expect him to hit the next shot. I’m going to continue going to him no matter what.”

Added Kellogg, “We need him to beat teams like Miami.”

Miami (4-1) arrives in Amherst fresh off Wednesday’s 67-59 upset of No. 13 Michigan State. The Hurricanes’ lone loss came at Florida Gulf Coast in the second game of the season, but that loss came without senior guard Durand Scott, who missed the first three games of the season.

Scott’s scored 15 points in each of the last two games.

Sophomore Shane Larkin, the son of former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin, had a breakout game against UMass last year with 14 points. He leads Miami with 16.8 points and 4.0 assists per game.

The Hurricanes’ size could be a challenge for UMass as 6-foot-10, 292-pound center Reggie Johnson figures to be a handful. He’s averaging 11.3 points and 10.3 rebounds.

“He gives them a double-double guy,” Kellogg said. “When I look at their roster, there’s not a weak link that you can say we can play off of. This is probably the best team we’re going to play. It’s going to be a big time game. We’re going to have to bring an A game to be competitive. I think guys are ready to bring an A game and at least put their best foot forward.”

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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