UMass basketball: Minutemen to host La Salle, Minutewomen on the road at Richmond
|Published: 01-09-2024 4:33 PM
AMHERST — The effort and no-quit attitude that the UMass men’s basketball team showed against Dayton on Sunday was a promising sign for the Minutemen moving forward.
UMass’ 64-60 loss on the road was the closest the Minutemen have come to beating the Flyers at their house since 2018, and to do it by battling back from down 13 points with under 10 minutes left in the game while trying to overcome a disastrous field goal percentage was all the more impressive.
Even Matt Cross bounced back to drop 18 points and 14 rebounds after taking an elbow from a Dayton player and losing a tooth just minutes into the first half.
But UMass still lost the game, and as the saying goes, there are no moral victories. The Minutemen have now lost eight straight to Dayton by an average margin of 14 points per loss.
“I’m not into moral victories,” said UMass head coach Frank Martin afterward. “Moral victories are for people that expect to lose. But I’m really proud of our guys, man. Really proud of our guys. Disappointed… we had a chance to take a huge step forward as a program but it wasn’t quite good enough.”
A Josh Cohen 3-pointer that would’ve given UMass its first lead of the game with two minutes to play touched every part of the rim before falling into the hands of Dayton. Cohen then had a chance to tie the contest with under a minute remaining, and he leaned on his patented jump hook that’s worked so well this season. Once again, it clanked off the rim and Flyers forward DaRon Holmes II (18 points) secured the board.
The Minutemen were forced to play the foul game, and Dayton sank five of its six free throw attempts to seal the win.
That performance leads into Wednesday night’s game against La Salle, which poses an interesting question for UMass. For the first time in years, there are real expectations for this team – and its potential has been displayed as it reaches the midway point of the season, most recently against the heavy favorites of the Atlantic 10 Conference on Sunday.
So, will the Minutemen rise up to those expectations and take care of business as clear favorites against the Explorers, or is a letdown – often the case over the last decade when a positive vibe surrounds the team – on the horizon?
If UMass wants to achieve the former, it’ll start with slowing down the talented La Salle backcourt led by Khalil Brantley and Jhamir Brickus. Both guards are averaging around 15 points per contest and play the most minutes on the team. Brickus is more of a true point guard (five assists per game), while Brantley – who has had games of 30, 29, 24, and 23 points this season – can fill it up from all three levels.
Both Rahsool Diggins (eight points, 0-for-10 from 3) and Keon Thompson (0 points) are coming off their worst games of the season at Dayton, and it’s obviously not going to get any easier facing Brantley and Brickus. The Minutemen need a bounce-back game from their two matured guards if they’re to get back in the win column on Wednesday.
The Spiders are one of two unbeatens remaining in the Atlantic 10 (3-0 in conference play) and enter Wednesday’s contest with UMass having won seven of their last eight – the lone loss coming to Michigan State.
Richmond beat George Washington and Saint Joseph’s on the road, and took care of previously A-10 undefeated VCU at home. Led by sophomore Maggie Doogan and her 16.6 points, 5.2 rebounds per game, the Spiders have four players currently averaging double figures and love to get it done by committee. Doogan has five games of 20-plus points this season.
Grace Townsend (12 ppg), Addie Budnik (11.6 ppg), and Rachel Ullstrom (11.3 ppg) are all capable and willing scorers for Richmond.
UMass is coming off a disappointing 79-75 loss to Saint Louis at home Saturday afternoon. The Minutewomen led by 10 in the third quarter, and ESPN gave them a near-90 percent chance to win after Stefanie Kulesza (18 points) converted a layup to make it 49-39 with 5:55 remaining in the frame.
The Billikens proceeded to score 40 points over the next 15:55 of game time to storm from behind and snap UMass’ hopes of a winning conference record after the first full week of A-10 competition.
Alexsia Rose had a breakout game for the Minutewomen, posting a UMass career-high 18 points and career-high nine assists, while Kristin Williams (17 points on 8-for-14 shooting, four assists) continued to put up solid numbers as well.
It’ll likely be a steep hill to climb against Richmond down in Virginia on Wednesday (11 a.m. tip), but if the Minutewomen can keep their best players playing well and build further on the team basketball they’ve been playing over the past few games, Mike Leflar’s group could hit its stride come February.