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UMass returns to action, hosts Elon Saturday in Springfield

AMHERST — The University of Massachusetts men’s basketball team is familiar with long breaks.

The Minutemen had nine days off between their last game in Puerto Rico on Nov. 18 and their game at Siena on Nov. 28. After two games in four days against Miami and Northeastern, UMass has been off for the last 10 days. The Minutemen will start to get into more of a routine Saturday when they host Elon at noon at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. UMass won’t have more than six days off between games from now until the Atlantic 10 tournament.

“Once conference play comes we’re going to be playing two, maybe three games a week. It’s going to be good to get some rhythm,” senior Terrell Vinson said. “When you’ve not been playing and then playing again, you’ve got to get back into game shape. For the speed we play, we’re not in the condition for playing two games in a week.”

Junior Jesse Morgan agreed.

“We’re very anxious,” Morgan said. “Just to get back into the two games a week or whatever is good for us. Just to keep playing. But it works both ways. A long break doesn’t do anything but help you get better as far as practicing and getting this style down pat.”

UMass coach Derek Kellogg was pleased with his team’s progress since the Northeastern game.

“All the teams in the country are going through finals and a lot of times there’s a little rust for that first game back,” Kellogg said. “The guys have come and done a pretty good job. It looks like we’re getting our transition game going a little better and faster. There’s a little more sense of urgency like now the season is underway. It’s time to play UMass basketball on a more consistent basis. Not for 28 or 30 minutes a game. We have to up this to 40. We’ve done some good things in spurts, but we haven’t really put together the whole package of UMass basketball yet.

“The adjustment was guys learning to play with different guys. We’ve had some weird lineups out there,” Kellogg continued. “That’s been evident in our offense. ... We’ve shot the ball a lot more (in practice). We’ve done a lot more shooting and shooting on the run. We’ve been getting a lot of 3s on the run. Not so much standstill ones.”

After Elon (6-3) dropped its opener to Butler on Nov. 10, the Phoenix won four straight, including a 63-53 upset of South Carolina. They’ve gone 2-2 since with wins over Georgia Southern and Dartmouth and losses to Virginia Military and the College of Charleston.

The return of sophomore Cady Lalanne, who was reinstated Friday following a 12-day suspension, could be important. Elon’s best player is big man Lucas Troutman. The 6-foot-10 junior leads the team, averaging 14.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. Troutman had 15 points against the Minutemen, who won 85-67 last year.

Junior guard Jack Isenbarger is Elon’s top perimeter threat with 13.9 points per game.

“They have a team that’s played together for a little while. They have a good vision of what they’re trying to do on both ends of the floor,” Kellogg said. “They knocked off South Carolina and played everyone else really tough. We’re going to have to play a 40-minute game to beat them.”

CHARLESTON CLASSIC IN 2013? — UMass, which had been negotiating to play in a 2013 in-season tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., appears to be changing course. According to sources at UMass, the Minutemen are in talks to play in the Charleston (S.C.) Classic. Like the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, the event is run by ESPN. Six of the eight teams have already been announced — Temple, UAB, Clemson, Georgia, Nebraska and New Mexico.

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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