UMass basketball: Minutemen look to rebound against Saint Louis; Minutewomen hope to snap skid at URI

UMass men’s basketball coach Frank Martin shouts instructions to his team during Tuesday’s loss to Saint Joseph’s at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

UMass men’s basketball coach Frank Martin shouts instructions to his team during Tuesday’s loss to Saint Joseph’s at the Mullins Center in Amherst. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 01-26-2024 4:43 PM

After winning two of its first three Atlantic 10 Conference games, the UMass men’s basketball team has now lost three of its last four – including two crushing defeats at the buzzer stemming from an inability to rebound down the stretch.

The Minutemen were ahead as many as 13 points in the second half against Saint Joseph’s on Tuesday night, but ultimately turned the ball over eight times over the final 11 minutes and squandered the lead in a 78-77 defeat at the Mullins Center.

The buzzer-beating loss was UMass’ second in three games, the other coming on the road at Loyola Chicago. But the Minutemen responded from that game with a dominant 81-67 showing against George Washington, and have the same opportunity to flush the heart-breaker on the road when they face a reeling Saint Louis squad on Saturday.

Rahsool Diggins said he and the rest of Minutemen are eager to get back on the floor and rid Tuesday’s loss from their memory bank.

“It’s a sour taste in our mouth right now, but we’ll get back to practice and focus on rebounding specifically,” Diggins said. “I’m good at moving forward, because there’s always a next one. You just gotta push forward.”

The Billikens are 8-11 overall and 1-5 in conference play. But Saint Louis did, however, beat Saint Joseph’s on its home floor Jan. 10.

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Similar to how the Hawks are constructed offensively, the Billikens also have several players averaging double digits – led by Gibson Jimerson’s 15.3 points per game. Jimerson has only scored two points combined in his last two games, so the 6-foot-5 guard is certainly looking for a get-back game against the Minutemen. Saint Louis also leans heavily on Bradley Ezewiro, who missed the first half of the season but has emerged in conference play as a 14-point, 7-rebound-per-game threat down low.

Guard Sincere Parker (13.6 ppg) and forward Terrence Hargrove Jr. (12.9 ppg) are players to watch as well. 

The Minutemen need Josh Cohen to have a bounce-back performance after posting just six points and four rebounds against Saint Joseph’s. Matt Cross showed signs of his normal self, stuffing the stat sheet for 12 points, nine rebounds and four assists on Tuesday.

There are currently six teams in the A-10 sitting with three wins, including UMass (12-7, 3-4). The Minutemen have a terrific opportunity to build some traction and momentum with a win over Saint Louis before hosting George Mason next weekend. UMass is just two last-second plays away from being 5-2 in the conference instead of 3-4, but that’s the way the ball bounces sometimes.

Those games are in the past, and UMass needs to focus on the task ahead. All Atlantic 10 road games are extremely difficult to win, so if the Minutemen aren’t ready to go, don’t be shocked if Travis Ford’s group defends its home floor on Saturday. The last time UMass won a road game at Chaifetz Arena was Jan. 31, 2015. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. ET.

Minutewomen head to Rhody amid six-game skid

There was no doubt the UMass women’s basketball team would face growing pains this season with almost all of the Minutewomen’s production from last year’s roster departing, as did head coach Tory Verdi, who left to take the lead job at Pittsburgh.

But even the biggest supports, and new head coach Mike Leflar, would say this 3-17 has been a disappointment. Sure, UMass had a slew of injuries at the beginning of the season (only eight were suited up at one point in November), but the Minutewomen have had their full arsenal of weapons in conference play, yet they’re just 1-7 and sit at the bottom of the A-10.

It doesn’t get any easier for UMass, as it heads to the Ryan Center for a battle with rival Rhode Island, which is 13-8 overall and 5-3 in the conference.

Opposite from the Minutewomen, the Rams have been healthy nearly all season. Leading scorer Maye Toure is on a tear dating back to Jan. 2. She’s scored no less than 11 points and has grabbed at least five boards in each of her last seven contests. Bre Bellamy and Lilly Taulelei are sure to be busy with Toure in the frontcourt.

The backcourt tandem of Sophie Phillips and Teisha Hyman are lethal for Rhode Island. They have different play styles that complement one another to perfection.

Despite the six straight losses, UMass guard Kristin Williams is playing her best stretch of basketball this season. Williams can score from anywhere on the floor, and the Minutewomen are going to need her long-distance shooting to be effective if they want a chance to win on Saturday. Stefanie Kulesza is probably the most consistent player on the UMass roster, and she plays the most minutes every game barring any foul trouble. Kulesza has to be the best all-around player on the floor in every game for UMass to be successful.

Tip-off is at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Kingston, R.I.