Harris gets to the point for UMass
AMHERST - After his team lost by 38 points to then-No. 2 Michigan State Saturday night, University of Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg faced the ambush with a realistic tone. He acknowledged the Minutemen were completely outclassed, and said the Spartans were a program he wanted to emulate.
But before the Minutemen can hope to regain the national prominence they once enjoyed with Kellogg as a player, they first must regain regional relevance.
Last night, they took a baby step in that direction with a 62-58 victory over Quinnipiac. Granted, a 4-point win at home over a team in the Northeast Conference is not exactly occasion for beat-your-chest gloating, but Kellogg sensed some good signs. There was some solid defense, some of the best offensive flow UMass has had all year, and the encouraging transition of Ricky Harris to point guard.
“We executed as well offensively as we have all season,’’ said Kellogg. “We’re definitely in the learning stages, trying to get better every day. It’s going to be a while.’’
“We needed that one bad, just to get our confidence back up,’’ said Harris. “Everybody contributed in their own way.’’
Harris, UMass’s lone senior, was a shooting guard throughout his first three seasons, and a good one - moving earlier this year into the top 10 on the school’s all-time scoring list. Last weekend, though, Kellogg shifted Harris over to the point at halftime against Rutgers, a move born of some desperation, given the struggles of David Gibbs. Harris played well in that second half, then struggled, as the entire team did, the next night against Michigan State.
Last night, though, he seemed very comfortable in the new role. He scored a team-high 19 points (including 15 in the game’s first 12 minutes), and dished out a game-high six assists.
“I accept the challenge,’’ said Harris. “I like the position.’’
The shift has also freed up junior Anthony Gurley, who had been competing with Harris for playing time. Gurley scored 15 points last night, and Sampson Carter added 11.
The UMass guard play was enough to offset a huge rebounding advantage for the Bobcats, who outboarded UMass, 46-29. That included a staggering 28 offensive rebounds, though Quinnipiac often struggled to convert them into points.
“I’m proud of how my team played in terms of their toughness and heart,’’ said Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore. “We could have shot the ball a bit better.’’
The Bobcats were led by James Feldeine, who scored a game-high 20 points. James Johnson added 13.
Kellogg acknowledged that when it came to rebounding, UMass needed some tips from the Bobcats.
“I think it’s [about] effort,’’ said Kellogg. “You have to get more guys to the boards.’’
Moore was impressed with UMass, and forecast a rosy future.
“Derek’s doing a great job here,’’ he said. “When you look at the number of first-year kids he has in his top 7 or 8, it’s staggering. They’re recruiting like crazy. The system is terrific. They’re going to be a monster in the Atlantic 10 - I don’t know when.’’
On Saturday, the 3-4 Minutemen travel to Worcester to take on Holy Cross. Quinnipiac, 3-3, will host Fairleigh Dickinson.