Keon Clergeot adds spark again off bench for UMass

  • Keon Clergeot, of UMass, celebrates after scoring against Yale, Dec. 11 at the Mullins Center. Over the last three games, Clergeot has re-emerged as the glue player he became toward the end of last season for UMass. His shots have started to fall and his defensive effort has given the Minutemen a major boost when he’s inserted into the game. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/3/2020 7:32:30 PM

AMHERST — Keon Clergeot is one of the more predictable players on the UMass men’s basketball team.

It’s a given he’s going to compete as hard as he can for as long as he can. It’s a given he’s going to try to draw as many charges as he can. And it’s pretty much a given he’ll do something on the court that will leave fans scratching their heads.

Most of the time that puzzled look is a good thing, like when he drew a foul on a 3-pointer against VCU by contorting his body into the defender. Or maybe it’s when an off-balanced 3-pointer hits the backboard and drops. But there is never a doubt that Clergeot is going to outwork his opponent most nights, even when UMass as a team doesn’t have the same fire.

“His effort level was there Saturday (at Richmond), I didn’t feel like everybody else’s was, but I did feel Keon’s was,” coach Matt McCall said. “He’s dialed in right now and he’s giving us that effort we need night in and night out, and that’s why he needed to continue to be out there for us.”

Clergeot was a mainstay in the starting lineup for the Minutemen earlier this season, starting 16 of the first 19 games. He was shifted to a reserve when McCall flipped the lineup to his current starting five, and his minutes fluctuated. In particular, Clergeot started to see less of the court after missing the trip to Davidson in early February with an illness.

The redshirt junior played just eight minutes in a win over George Mason last month then had that playing time chopped in half a week later against Dayton. He then went scoreless in 12 minutes against Saint Louis to complete a three-game scoreless streak.

Clergeot, though, never wavered from his trademark passion and energy, waiting for his name to be called again.

“It’s really just staying focused and waiting for the opportunity to come,” Clergeot said. “Help the freshmen with whatever they need help then be prepared after that.”

Over the last three games, Clergeot has re-emerged as the glue player he became toward the end of last season for UMass. His shots have started to fall and his defensive effort has given the Minutemen a major boost when he’s inserted into the game. He said he’s felt more confident since he’s started seeing the ball go through the hoop, but his success has never affected what he knows is his true responsibility on the court.

“I’ve just always been like that,” Clergeot said. “Every time I’m on the court, I just always play hard. That’s my mentality.”

His energy is infectious, too, especially when he’s on the business end of an offensive player barreling toward the rim. He easily leads the team in charges taken, a dubious stat similar to leading a team in being hit by pitches. Yet he has always embraced that role for the Minutemen and taken pleasure from getting steamrolled and forcing the offensive foul.

“His enthusiasm for the game; have you ever seen a player enjoy taking a charge more than him?” McCall asked. “I’ve never seen a guy take more pride in taking a charge as he does.”

The joy in taking a charge is a hallmark of the toughness McCall said UMass (13-16, 7-9 Atlantic 10) needs out of Clergeot over the next two weeks. That effort starts Wednesday at La Salle (14-14, 5-11) in a game the Minutemen need to win to secure a first-round bye in next week’s A10 Tournament. McCall said he was disappointed his team didn’t have the requisite effort on the road on Saturday, and is hoping the Minutemen will be able to replicate the grit it showed two weeks ago at Fordham.

If the Minutemen are to show that tenacity against the Explorers, Clergeot will be among the most enthused players on the court in Philadelphia. And McCall is hopeful the freshmen will take the cue from their experienced leader and match his toughness.

“We need him down the stretch, we need him in these games,” McCall said. “We talked about all day is that this is going to be a war, this is going to be a battle, this is going to be a fist fight and we need that toughness out of him. He’s going to be an important piece if we’re going to find a way to win Wednesday.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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