AMHERST — The shooting slump would bother Sampson Carter more if the University of Massachusetts wasn’t winning. But heading into Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. game against St. Bonaventure at the Mullins Center, he’s eager to put it behind him.
Over the first 10 games of the season, Carter was among the Minutemen’s most reliable players, averaging 13.2 points per game, while shooting 40.6 percent from the floor. But his percentage has dropped to 20.9 and his scoring average to 7.7 over the last four games for the No. 19 Minutemen (13-1, 1-0 Atlantic 10).
“I still get frustrated because I’ve set goals for myself, but it’s less frustrating because we’re winning. It’s great to be able to get the win and be able to correct what I’m doing,” Carter said. “There’s some adapting I have to get used to with the way that they’re defending me and the extra help. It’s getting in the gym and taking extra shots and not getting down on myself and staying confidence that I’m going to make the next open shot.”
UMass coach Derek Kellogg didn’t doubt Carter would round back into form.
“We’d obviously like him to play a little better than he has. He’s ready to work his way out of it,” Kellogg said. “He’s been at practice early putting up extra shots. I think his mentality is in the right place. It’s important to get him going and have him finish plays we’re accustomed to him making.”
Carter said Maxie Esho’s recent surge has helped alleviate any pressure to get his offense back on track.
Everybody goes through this. It works out well that I’m going through it now when Maxie is playing at an all-time high. It gives me a little more leeway.”
Carter said it won’t take much to end the slump.
“Al I need is for a couple to go in,” he said. “The first time I see a couple shots go down, I think I’ll snap right back into the old me. At the end of the day I just need to consistently play hard and everything comes from that.”
The Bonnies (11-4, 1-0) are trying to snap a 22-game losing streak against ranked teams. After finishing 14-15 (7-9 A-10) last year, the school created a nonconference schedule presumably designed to give the team confidence and a good record heading into the league play.
The Bonnies played more games against transitional Division I programs — UMass Lowell and Abilene Christian — than they did against power conference teams — a 77-62 loss at Wake Forest. Seven of their 14 games were against schools from New York, a list that didn’t include either of the Empire State’s two high-profile program’s Syracuse or St. John’s.
But the Bonnies carried the momentum of their success into Atlantic 10 action and beat Richmond 84-70 on Wednesday for their best win of the season.
“They did a good job of scheduling for their team and program. Now they look like a really confident team with a pretty good feel for what they’re trying to do,” Kellogg said. “They’re 11-4 and I don’t care who you’ve played getting to 11-4 in college basketball is a daunting task.”
SBU senior guard Matthew Wright is a leading candidate to be the most improved player in the A-10. He’s sixth in the conference in scoring at 16.5 points per game, more than double his 7.3 average last year. The offense runs through point guard Charlon Kloof, a 6-foot-3 guard from Suriname. He’s averaging 12.5 points, 4.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds.
The Bonnies are vulnerable from the free-throw line as their 66.1 percentage is 11th in the Atlantic 10, but they made 32 of 33 (97.0 percent) from the line against UMass last year. When they do miss, from the line or anywhere else, the Bonnies are the best in the league at getting offensive rebounds, grabbing 38.9 percent.
“St. Bonaventure is a good team. They beat us last year,” Carter said. “We respect them. We’re going to take no one lightly.”
CHASING LEGENDS — With 1,360 career points, UMass senior point guard Chaz Williams needs 11 points to pass NBA legend Julius Erving (1,370) at No. 14 on the school’s career scoring list. Clarence Hill is No. 15 with 1,369. With 28 points, Williams could pass No. 13 Marcus Camby (1,387).
If Williams maintains his 15.9 average, he’d crack UMass’ top 10 in the first game of the Atlantic 10 tournament.
ALUMNI GAME — Shortly after the game ends, UMass will host its Legacy Game to benefit Coaches vs. Cancer, with several prominent former player expected to participate, including: Matt Anderson, Craig Berry, Donta Bright, Ted Cottrell, Dana Dingle, Dwayne Early, Will Herndon, Chris Kirkland, Monty Mack, Lex Mongo, Horace Neysmith, Chris Robinson, Kennard Robinson, John Tate, Carmelo Travieso and Tyrone Weeks.
Jim McCoy and Trigger Burke will each coach one of the teams. Participation for Kellogg and Lou Roe won’t likely be determined until after the game.
MISCELLANEOUS — A UMass graduate will be on the television broadcast as Mike Corey will do play-by-play for the UMass-SBU game on NBC Sports Network.