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UMass looks to make it two-straight victories

mhoopsBLast season, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team used senior leadership from Tony Gaffney and Chris Lowe in order to defeat in-state rival Holy Cross.

This season, senior guard Ricky Harris and the rest of the Minutemen will look to make it two-straight against the Crusaders when UMass travels to Worcester Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. tip-off.

The Minutemen (3-4) defeated Quinnipiac Wednesday night, 62-58, after falling to Michigan State and Rutgers in the championship round of the Legends Classic last weekend. Harris led UMass with 19 points and six assists against the Bobcats, while redshirt junior Anthony Gurley added 15 points and six rebounds.

“Right now, for our team’s psyche and getting our guys in the right frame of mind, a ‘W’ is a nice thing to have. It’s one of those ones where a lot of the hard work correlates into wins,” Kellogg said. “I think a tough road game against Holy Cross Saturday is a good way to see how far we’ve come.”

After dropping their first six games of the season, the Crusaders (2-6) have registered back-to-back wins against Marist and Brown with the help of Mike Cavatio, R.J. Evans and Andrew Keister. Cavatio, a sophomore transfer from St. John’s University, leads the team in scoring with 13.3 points per game. Evans, a sophomore guard, is second behind Cavatio with 12 points per game and 23 assists, and was the Patriot League Rookie of the Year last season, while junior forward Keister leads the Crusaders in rebounding (8.6 per game).

“They’re on a two game winning streak, they seem to be playing better and I think its two similar teams in similar areas this time of the year,” Kellogg said. “We are both trying to find ourselves, and figure out where we stand nationally.”

Like the Minutemen, the Crusaders have a young team but experienced team, with just two seniors and four freshmen, including a transfer in Cavatio.

However, Kellogg realizes that they are a talented team that returns five sophomores and three juniors, all of whom have collegiate experience.

“They’re a team that has a lot of guys coming back, and I think the biggest thing I think that’s going on is that they’re trying to get acclimated to a new coach,” Kellogg said. “There are different styles that they are playing, but they have an older team that has played well in the past, and I think they are trying to find their groove a little bit.”

Sean Kearney took over the program this season after former coach Ralph Willard left the Crusaders program he turned into a contender and accepted an associate coaching position at Louisville under longtime friend Rick Petino. From 1999 to 2009, Willard went 174-103 at HC.

The Crusaders play a combination of zone and man defense, and will look to take advantage of a UMass team that was outrebounded, 46-29, by the Bobcats, including 28-11 on the offensive end of the floor.

Last season, the Minutemen played stingy defense in the second half, as Harris led all scorers with 23 points, and Gurley added 14 points and six rebounds to put three UMass players in double figures.

HC was predicted to win the Patriot League this season, and will face the Minutemen at home next season at the end of the three-year deal between both teams. Kellogg feels that this could become a great in-state match-up between two teams that are looking to build their programs back up to national prominence.

“I think its good for the state of Massachusetts, and it gets us in Worcester some,” Kellogg said.

David Brinch can be reached at dbrinch@student.umass.edu.

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