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Final

La Salle 82, UMass 75

UMass basketball is caught flat-footed in loss

PHILADELPHIA - Derek Kellogg pondered the question intently, trying to decide if there was anything to be gained by the University of Massachusetts basketball team from its 82-75 road loss to La Salle yesterday, which snapped a six-game winning streak.

After all, spotting any team a 26-point halftime lead - which would grow to 28 - thanks to 16 turnovers, is pretty much suicide. But then, coming back with a vengeance to get as close as 5 and putting a real scare in the Explorers has to count for something, too.

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So then, is the glass half empty or half full?

“Is there an in-between?’’ said a laughing Kellogg, who went to all sorts of extraordinary measures to no avail trying to change the karma. “If the kids come back and have a good attitude and realize it’s unacceptable in [Atlantic 10] play to come out and play flat, it could be OK.

“But they have to buy in to what we’re teaching and coaching.’’

Based on this one, he may be teaching and coaching a lot more zone than the Minutemen are used to playing. After the Explorers riddled UMass’s man-to-man defense for 51 points, while shooting 10 for 16 from behind the 3-point line, Kellogg switched to a zone, which brought dramatic results.

Not only did they hold La Salle (12-4, 2-0) to just 2 for 11 on 3-pointers while forcing 16 turnovers, but they committed just four second-half miscues while producing 50 points.

Is this the wave of the Minutemen’s future?

“We haven’t really worked on it a ton,’’ said Kellogg, who was embarrassed here, 72-51, last year while being outrebounded, 57-33. “We could be a good zone team. And with our depth and personnel issues, it’s something we’re going to have to look at. I’ve just had a lot of success as a player and coach, and most of the guys I worked for have had success with man-to-man. But I guess I could be sold on a zone.’’

Whatever defense UMass (12-4, 1-1) plays, his players know they can’t afford starts in which they commit more turnovers (9) than score points (8) in the first 10 minutes and consistently leave shooters wide open.

“The first half, we just totally took ourselves out of the game,’’ said Chaz Williams, who came on late to score 24 points, while Jesse Morgan added 22. “We dug ourselves a deep hole and couldn’t climb out of it.

“It was us, not them. We weren’t aggressive, didn’t key on the right guys, and turned the ball over too much.’’

Which completely foiled Kellogg’s pregame “strategy’’ that included having his wife come along for the ride on the team bus.

“We traveled a little different,’’ said Kellogg, who’ll try to regroup for home games against Charlotte and Saint Joseph’s this week. “We stopped in Cherry Hill (N.J.) and had dinner on the way. We didn’t really meet last night, we had our walkthrough at breakfast. Because of the success or lack thereof UMass has had in this building I was just trying anything different.’’

But nothing they did could prevent UMass’s fourth straight loss at Tom Gola Arena.

“We came back to make a statement,’’ said Morgan, who grew up just a few blocks from here and knows many of the Explorers. “I wouldn’t say it’s harder to play here. We just came out flat. If we’d come out with the spark we did in the second half, it would’ve been a totally different game.’’

Trailing, 53-25, early in the second, UMass outscored the Explorers, 19-4, over the next 10 minutes to bring the score to 57-44. But the Minutemen couldn’t get the margin below double figures until Williams’s 3-point play made it 67-60 with 2:14 left.

When Devon White countered with a power dunk and free throw for a subsequent 3-point play at the other end, the Explorers, who got 19 points from Earl Pettis and 18 from Ramon Galloway, had enough to stagger to the finish line.

“Down 26 at the half, you just keep going,’’ explained Williams, who scored 16 after intermission. “We tried to play in four-minute segments, because there’s no such thing as a 26-point play in basketball.’’

“We just let it get away from us in the first half,’’ said Kellogg. “It should’ve been 16-18 points, and then you have a chance. When you let it get to 25-26, the probability of coming back is pretty difficult.’’

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