Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg has pinpointed two areas his team must shore up before the conference schedule begins.
It appears to have a good shot at improving in one of those when it faces Miami of Ohio.
In their last game before the start of Atlantic-10 play, the 23rd-ranked Minutemen hope to find success from 3-point range Saturday night against the visiting RedHawks, one of the nation’s worst teams at defending the arc.
UMass (11-1) is off to its best start since the 1995-96 team opened 26-0, but Kellogg knows his team has a way to go if it wants to contend for its first A-10 title since 2007.
The Minutemen got off to a solid start with their 3-point shooting, knocking down 40.8 percent through 10 games, but as the competition has increased they’ve struggled. They missed 14 of 15 from 3 in a 60-55 loss to Florida State on Dec. 21 and were 6 of 19 from behind the arc in last Saturday’s 69-67 overtime win over Providence.
Sampson Carter went 2 for 11 on 3-pointers in those two games while leading scorer Chaz Williams was 2 for 9.
Facing Miami (4-6) could help UMass regain its long-distance shooting touch.
Although the RedHawks held Southern Illinois to 3 of 17 from 3-point range in a 67-65 victory Sunday, the Salukis are among the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country. Prior to that game, Miami was allowing opponents to hit 42.9 percent of their 3s – worst in the nation.
Kellogg would also like to see his team improve on free throws after it made 54.1 percent from the foul line in the last three games – including a 9-of-18 showing against the Friars.
"We’ve got a ton of 3-point shooting and a lot of free-throw shooting to do over the next week to get ready for conference play," Kellogg said.
Despite the accuracy woes, Kellogg was impressed with his team’s resolve after Williams fouled out with 1:36 left in regulation Saturday. Four players scored in overtime for the Minutemen, who won on Derrick Gordon’s put-back of Trey Davis’ miss with 1.1 seconds remaining.
"It’s good to see some other guys have matured," Kellogg said. "I’m proud of the guys. I thought they played well and competed and to come away with a victory when things weren’t going perfect is a testament that we’ve matured and gotten better as a team and a program."
Williams hit the go-ahead jumper with 1:12 to play in UMass’ 70-69 win over Miami last Jan. 2, the only previous meeting between the schools. Senior Raphiael Putney, who averages 10.8 points but has totaled four in the last two games, scored 20 against the RedHawks.
Miami’s Will Felder is averaging a team-best 13.2 points. He had only nine against SIU, but made the go-ahead jumper with 22 seconds to go.
The RedHawks have won two in a row, but they’re 1-5 on the road with the win coming against 1-14 Tennessee State. They’ve been outscored by an average of 20.2 points in the defeats.
One of those came in the season opener Nov. 8 against then-No. 21 Notre Dame – their 23rd straight loss to a ranked team. Miami hasn’t beaten a Top 25 foe since defeating then-No. 10 Boston College at the 2001 Rainbow Classic in Hawaii.