UMass basketball notebook: Reeling Minutemen readying for Richmond


Staff Writer

Published: 01-24-2023 5:38 PM

Richmond’s offense might be one of the last things a struggling UMass men’s basketball defense wants to see. The Spiders, which visit the Mullins Center at 7 p.m. Wednesday (NESN), use a version of the Princeton offense with constantly churning screens and back cuts. It’s like the triple option in football and often requires separate sessions to teach players to run the offense on scout teams so the rest of the squad can defend it.

“The biggest key is as the game goes on, you have to be really mentally connected,” UMass coach Frank Martin said. “You’re going to be beat on some things early and you have to adjust to neutralize that stuff.”

The Minutemen (11-8, 2-5 Atlantic 10), on a two-game losing streak, saw a version of the scheme against Charlotte in the Myrtle Beach Invitational championship game. But that was a different UMass defense.

UMass has allowed 77.9 points per game in A-10 play, the second worst in the conference. Opponents are shooting 47.8 percent against the Minutemen in conference, also just above the bottom.

“Defending on the perimeter has been complicated. It’s been hard, and we’re trying to figure it out, too,” Martin said. “We’re trying to figure out what I’m asking them to do, and how I’m asking them to play. See, January’s where you separate the teams that are going places and the teams that are folding up the tents.”

UMass is 2-4 this month. The Spiders (11-9, 4-3) have gone 4-2 in January led by preseason all A-10 performer Tyler Burton. The Uxbridge native ranks second in the league averaging 19.9 points per game. He put up a career-high 38 against Charleston earlier this year and has cracked 20 nine times, reaching double figures in every game.

“He’s all over the place. It’s gonna really stress the matchup, and it’s gonna stress the help,” Martin said. “We have not defended really well in a while.”

The Minutemen have relied on Louisville transfer Matt Cross of late. The Beverly native has posted two straight double-doubles and averaged 16 points per game over his last four.

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“I’m not really looking for anything specific or trying to do anything specific, just trying to be everywhere and work as hard as possible,” Cross said. “Just trying to do whatever I can for the team.”

UMass last beat Richmond on March 6, 2019. The Minutemen are 1-8 in their last nine against the Spiders, dating back to 2014.

INJURY UPDATE – UMass guard Noah Fernandes, who has missed the last three games and eight of the past 11, practiced for 40-45 minutes Tuesday. Martin said he “looked pretty good,” but how his body responds to that work between then and game time will determine whether or not he suits up against the Spiders.

INSTANT IMPACT – The Minutemen announced the signing of 12-year-old Theodore Bryant through Team IMPACT on Monday. 

Team IMPACT, a national non-profit organization, has developed a unique multiyear program that matches children facing serious illness and disability with college athletic teams across the country.

“Theodore’s a young man we’ve embraced. That was our way to continue to give him hope and continue to be a part of what we do,” Martin said. “It gives our guys a chance to understand that life’s a little deeper than the score of a basketball game.”

THE CHARM? – Martin will make his third attempt to pick up career win No. 300. He sits at 299 after the Minutemen beat Rhode Island on Jan. 14. 

In a 16 year coaching career, Martin won 117 games at Kansas State and 171 games at South Carolina. His all-time record is 299-209 with seven 20-win seasons, a Final Four appearance in 2017 with the Gamecocks and an Elite 8 trip with the Wildcats in 2010.