This is uncharted territory.
For the first time since 2002, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team is playing a second game in the Atlantic 10 tournament tonight when it takes on third-seeded Richmond in Atlantic City.
After the No. 11-seeded Minutemen (12-19) upset sixth-seeded Charlotte Tuesday night, it punched its ticket to Atlantic City and an opportunity to compete for the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Richmond (24-7), which already appears to have a spot in the NCAA tournament locked up, had a bye in the first round of the A-10 tournament. UMass travelled to Richmond on Jan. 13 and after forcing overtime, fell to the Spiders, 70-63. Prior to the loss, the Minutemen had won three in a row in the series with Richmond.
The Spiders are led by a trio of scorers who all average double-digit points per game. Kevin Anderson leads the way with 17.8 points per game, followed by David Gonzalvez (14.3 ppg) and Justin Harper (10.7 points ppg). Anderson also leads the team with 7.54 assists per game and plays nearly every minute (36.7 minutes per game) for Richmond.
Defense is emphasized on the Spiders team as they allow 61.4 ppg and are strong defending against 3-point shots, allowing just over 29 percent on the season. All around, opponents have struggled hitting shots against Richmond, netting 39 percent of shots compared to the Spiders’ 44.6 percent.
The Minutemen will rely on senior Ricky Harris who has carried the team to their past two victories over Rhode Island and Charlotte with an average of 26 ppg. In the last 10 games, Harris has averaged 23.7 ppg.
UMass will also rely on its defense just as it did against the 49ers. Despite the Minutemen shooting only 32.1 percent from the field in the game, Charlotte was held to 37.1 percent. A number of key defensive stops down the stretch by the Minutemen gave them an opportunity to pull out the victory.
With its first streak of A-10 tournament wins on the line, UMass looks to advance to the semifinals, where it would face the winner of tonight’s game between second-seeded Xavier and seven-seeded Dayton.
The Minutemen lost to both Dayton, 96-68, and Xavier, 87-79, earlier this season.
No. 11-seeded UMass holds the lowest seed it has ever had in the A-10 tournament, a tournament in which the Minutemen possess a 30-28 record in. The 30 wins are second to only Temple, which has gone 49-19 in A-10 tournament games since the tournament began in 1977.
The Minutemen held the No. 3 seed back in 2008, earning a first-round bye, but were knocked out when Charlotte upset them, 69-65, in the quarterfinals. The loss was the sixth time in a row UMass had fallen in its first game of the tournament, and after last season’s 69-65 loss to Duquesne, the streak was extended to seven years.
Jeffrey R. Larnard can be reached at email@example.com.