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Freddie Riley may be the biggest X-factor for the Minutemen this season. (Credit: Thom Kendall/UMass)

UMass downed American International at the Mullins Center on Saturday by a score of 87-82 behind 24 points and 11 assists from preseason all conference point guard Chaz Williams. UMass shot 48% from the floor and canned 12 of 24 three pointers while assisting on 22 field goals.

While the result is not surprising nor all that impressive, UMass remains the Atlantic 10 club most primed for a breakout season behind fifth year head coach Derek Kellogg. The Minutemen return nearly all viable pieces from their NIT team a year ago, and will have the firepower to score with, and beat any team in the conference on a given night.

While Chaz Williams may be the face of the team (if not the league at this point) Saturday night’s five point exhibition win provided a peek into what other weapons the Minutemen can beat clubs with.

Namely, senior guard Freddie Riley. An old face, possibly with a new game. Or an old game, depending on how you look at it.

A top 100 recruit by nearly every scouting service in the basketball landscape, it would be fair to say that to this point at least, Riley hasn’t lived up to the expectations some had set for him; fair or unfair.Ranked as the 31st best shooting guard in the country during prep school, Riley’s high school and prep “resume” take considerable time to comb through. He choose UMass over a few Big East Schools and fans in Amherst were ready for Riley to help put their program on the map.

Simply put, Riley was a star.

The Florida native was named to the league’s all rookie team three years ago, but from there his stint at UMass has been filled with ups and downs and inconsistent play. Riley had slipped on the depth charts.

2012-2013 offers a sense of promise and optimism for both UMass’ as well as Riley.

“Last year was last year, this year is this year.” said coach Derek Kellogg after the five point win. And while he was speaking about his team as a whole, he might as well be referring to his senior Riley who was part of his first recruiting class in Amherst.

Riley scored 21 points Saturday during 38 minutes of work while shooting six of ten from three, accounting for half of the UMass’ trifectas. ┬áIt was the type of production that could jumpstart a talented guard who lost his confidence somewhere along the way.

Riley agreed.

“It was pretty good for my confidence. I was glad that we were able to win the game. We didn’t want to embarrass our school tonight.”

After the game Riley also acknowledged his shooting struggles from a year ago when he shot just 30% from three and just 34% from the field overall.

“I felt more like myself tonight. Last year I didn’t shoot the ball well. Tonight, it felt like I was back to my normal ways.”

If 21 points on six deep balls is normal, UMass fans must be dying to know what “great” feels like to Freddie Riley.

If Kellogg and company can pull more efforts like Saturday’s out of Riley, one of the deepest teams in the Atlantic 10 gets even deeper.

Riley played just 17 minutes a game as a junior, his lowest minutes per game totals during his career. In addition, Riley’s three point shooting and overall shooting numbers have dipped for three consecutive seasons. His scoring also decreased each year he’s suited up.

But like Kellogg said, last year was last year, this year is this year.

Much like the UMass team as a whole, Riley can run on extremes: hot and cold. During his senior season, Riley will be aiming for two things in Amherst: to find some consistency in his game (if not his jump shot) and to leave his mark on a team well capable of an NCAA berth.

Already armed with Williams, Raphiael Putney, Terrell Vinson, Sampson Carter and Jesse Morgan and a deep supporting cast, adding a rejuvenated and hungry Riley would make an already dangerous club even more capable of a special season.

Time will tell whether or not an exhibition game to start the season marked the resurgence of Freddie Riley.



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