After challenging his players to increase their intensity following its controlled scrimmage against Harvard, University of Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg is curious to see how they react in tonight’s exhibition game against American International College at the Mullins Center.
It’s the Minutemen’s last tuneup before Sunday’s opener against Boston College.
“It’s seeing which guys step up to the challenge. We have a little more depth, more guys in the fold. They’ve responded so far in practice,” Kellogg said. “That’s the test, with lights on and people in the stands, which guys bring it to a high level.”
Kellogg said more of the team’s offensive and defensive system had been installed since the closed scrimmage.
“We had some pieces in, but the whole gamut of how we play wasn’t entirely together yet,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s further along than it was last Saturday.
“The focus in practice and the attention to detail has improved since then. I’m hoping we go out and play well. This late in the game, that’s something I hope happens.”
Kellogg has taken a varied approach in different seasons to choosing exhibition games vs. closed scrimmages. He thought with newcomers on his roster that playing an actual opponent would be valuable. This is the second year in a row playing the Yellow Jackets.
“I liked what the AIC game did for us last year. They played us tough,” said Kellogg, who had suspended three players for that game last year. “We had to figure out a couple different ways to win the basketball game. That’s important for the young guys. I like playing AIC to put a little local flavor into the game. They’re a good matchup for us because they can keep up with us athletically.”
The Minutemen will start a veteran lineup with seniors Chaz Williams, Raphiael Putney and Sampson Carter joining junior Cady Lalanne and sophomore Derrick Gordon, a transfer from Western Kentucky.
“There are three seniors in there which I kind of like,” Kellogg said. “It’s a good mix and gives us maturity to start the game.”
Gordon will be one of four players making their UMass debut along with freshmen Demetrius Dyson, Clyde Santee and Seth Berger. The fourth rookie, Zach Coleman, won’t play because he’s still rehabbing a leg injury.
Kellogg hopes to see a lot of sophomore center Tyler Bergantino, who he wants to play more of this year. Sampson Carter and Maxie Esho, who will both play regular minutes at forward, could also see time at center in the event of foul trouble.
“I want to play Cady and I want Tyler Bergantino to be his backup,” Kellogg said. “If we play against smaller lineups I’ll use Sampson in their some.”
AIC finished 9-17 last year. The Jackets return two double-digit scorers — senior guards Spencer Braithwaite (11.5 points per game) and Janek Schmidkunz (11.1).