UMass basketball: Minutemen look to shake off another last-second loss with Rhode Island in t

Josh Cohen and the UMass men’s basketball team host Rhode Island at the Mullins Center on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Josh Cohen and the UMass men’s basketball team host Rhode Island at the Mullins Center on Sunday at 2 p.m. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 02-09-2024 4:10 PM

AMHERST — It’s become quite clear that regardless of the opponent or location of the game, this year’s UMass men’s basketball team is going to be ready to play.

The Minutemen have been right in every single Atlantic 10 game late in regulation with a chance to win except for one, and across their eight losses this season, the average margin of defeat averages to just five points per game – only two possessions. UMass hadn’t won at St. Bonaventure since 2015, and it had the chance to do so on Wednesday night.

After building a 13-point first-half lead, the Minutemen dealt with heavy foul trouble. Josh Cohen, Daniel Hankins-Sanford and Jayden Ndjigue all had to sit huge chunks of time at certain points throughout the game, and that allowed the Bonnies to crawl their way back late in the second half.

A few bounces of the ball went St. Bonaventure’s way and UMass ultimately fell 79-73 in a typical Atlantic 10 weeknight slug-fest. The loss dropped UMass out of the double-bye picture for now, but it certainly can get back to within striking distance of that coveted top-four seed in the conference tournament with some key wins down the stretch of the regular season.

“They were really frustrated after the game, and rightfully so,” Minutemen head coach Frank Martin said, referring to his team. “They left it on the court, and that hurts when you do that. When you lose and you’re so invested, it hurts. But at the same time you understand you got another day to live and fight and get better.”

That starts with Rhode Island on Super Bowl Sunday at 2 p.m. – a big game before the big game.

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The aforementioned one conference game the Minutemen (14-8) didn’t have a chance to win late in regulation came on the road against the Rams, an 89-77 loss in UMass’ first of three games without Matt Cross on Jan. 13.

“That was the one game we’ve played probably all year where we didn’t play to win,” Martin said. “There was some indecision with how we played and the aggression we played with. And since we’ve been in league play, it’s the only game we’ve played where coming into the last media timeout, we weren’t really in a place to win the game.”

Rhode Island is fresh off a 23-point blowout win at George Washington on Tuesday, and is one of four teams – including UMass – that sit at 5-5 in the conference.

The Rams have four players averaging 10 or more points per game, led by forward David Green, who, since joining the lineup, has given Rhode Island a terrific spark. Green became eligible to play at the end of December, and the Rams won their first four games with the 6-foot-7 junior on the floor. Over his last three games, Green is averaging 23 points per contest, but he didn’t play against George Washington earlier in the week.

Elsewhere, Rhode Island has three guards – Jaden House (15 ppg), Zek Montgomery (10.3 ppg) and Luis Kortright (10.3 ppg) – who can light up the scoreboard. Montgomery dropped 30 points and House put up 23 against the Revolutionaries, and Kortright poured in 26 on Davidson earlier this season.

As is the case with nearly every team in the A-10, the Rams have a plethora of guards capable of taking over a game.

Martin feels his team is ready to go for the second meeting with Rhode Island.

“When I was a kid, if you got knocked down and you showed up again and you went at the same guy and didn’t learn from the first experience, he’s gonna knock you down again,” Martin said. “It’s the same way now… The answer is to understand why you got knocked down so you can learn and approach it differently the next time around. We need to make sure we comprehend that.”

Following perhaps his worst game in a UMass uniform, Martin expects Cohen to have a bounce-back effort this weekend. The senior finished with four points on 2-for-8 shooting and was fifth on the team with only three rebounds.

For the Minutemen to reach the high expectations they have for themselves, the 6-foot-10 Cohen can’t take nights off.

“He’s going through the responsibility of winning for the first time in his career,” Martin said. “Everyone thinks that’s easy, but it’s a really hard responsibility and a burden to carry. He’s going through it. He hasn’t played great in the last two weeks.”

Sunday’s game will be aired on USA Network.

Minutewomen travel to Fordham looking to end skid

The UMass women’s basketball team enters Saturday afternoon’s game with Fordham having lost 10 consecutive games in the Atlantic 10. The Minutewomen fell 79-62 at home against Duquesne on Wednesday, and now take on a beatable Fordham team that sits at 8-15 (3-9 A-10). 

The Rams are a two-headed monster, plain and simple. Taylor Donaldson and Emy Hayford are a pair of senior guards who do the bulk of the scoring for Fordham. Donaldson has nine games of 20-plus points and averages 18 points per game, while Hayford (12.3 ppg) has scored double digits in nine of her last 10. Nobody else averages more than seven points per game. 

If UMass is to win, it will likely be because it shut down – or at least limited – the Rams’ high-scoring duo.

Tip-off is slated for 2 p.m. and the game is available for streaming on ESPN-plus.