Chaz Williams and UMass jump headlong into Atlantic 10 Conference play on Wednesday night, when they host Saint Joseph’s at the Mullins Center.
Chaz Williams and UMass jump headlong into Atlantic 10 Conference play on Wednesday night, when they host Saint Joseph's at the Mullins Center. (Associated Press)

AMHERST -- If you're Derek Kellogg, the first half of the basketball season couldn't have gone much better for the University of Massachusetts.

Winning record, check. Home sellouts, check. National ranking, check.

"I'll take 12-1 with the schedule we've played anytime," Kellogg said Saturday night after his 23rd-ranked Minutemen beat Miami (Ohio) in UMass' final non-conference game of the 2013-14 season.

UMass jumps headlong into Atlantic 10 Conference play on Wednesday night, when it hosts Saint Joseph's at the Mullins Center. The Minutemen close out a four-game homestand on Saturday with a visit from Saint Bonaventure.

The Minutemen finished the non-league schedule with only a 5-point loss to Florida State on the resume. UMass was 5-0 at the Mullins Center, a record that does not include a 105-96 win over Brigham Young at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

Saturday night's win was the second consecutive low-scoring slugfest kind of basketball game. In the 73-65 win, UMass led by 13 points with 4:29 left in the second half and held off the Red Hawks. For the game, UMass shot 51 percent from the field but were only 16 of 23 from the free throw line. The Minutemen were outrebounded 34-27.

So while you don't get style points in basketball, the fifth-year UMass head coach said that just getting a win isn't quite good enough.

"It's nice that you win a game, you go to 12-1 and people are saying that's not good enough," he said. "That's nice. That makes you feel good because it makes you realize that we have a chance to do something.

"We feel the same way. That wasn't to the level we want to be at. We want to be better in all aspects of the game."

The Minutemen got through a difficult first portion of its schedule relatively unscathed. Going into Saturday's game, the Minutemen were ranked No. 1 in RPI by ESPN Insider and No. 2 by CBS Sports, RealTimeRPI and StatSheet.com. ESPN calls UMass' strength of schedule No. 1 in the nation.

"I thought we played really well for a stretch and now we're at a point where we have to take the next jump," said Kellogg. "One way will be to play more bodies and turn up the heat defensively, and just continue to get effort and games out of the guys who are supposed to do that."

After Saturday's game, Kellogg said he was especially happy with the fact that UMass went on its second-half run with reserves Maxie Esho, Trey Davis and Tyler Bergantino on the floor.

"I think Trey Davis is playing well. I think Tyler Bergantino is starting to fit in," said Kellogg. "Our bench has been solidified now. We have to get our starters to playing the way they were earlier in the year. We have to get more of the young kids involved."

None of the freshmen -- Clyde Santee, Zach Coleman and Seth Berger -- have averaged more than two minutes per game, and Coleman has yet to step on the court.

The UMass coach said getting those kids on the floor has been a challenge, and something he has not been able to get accomplished yet.

"It was good to come away with the win. We have to get a little better come conference time," said Kellogg. "It's time for us to start the conference and start playing and getting back to battling and going after teams."

To reach Howard Herman:
hherman@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6253.
On Twitter: @howardherman