In a long college basketball season with a young, developing team, adversity can either bring out the best or the worst in players. For the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, it was the former as it overcame an unusual road trip to defeat St. Bonaventure on Wednesday night.
UMass coach Derek Kellogg saw the victory as more than just the second straight road Atlantic 10 win; he saw it as a sign that his team might be maturing and handling pressure better.
“I hope that it shows we’re maturing some, but tomorrow’s practice they could act immature again and then I’ll be feeling differently,” Kellogg said after the win.
“It’s just weird in college coaching, your highs and lows, your ebbs and flows of your team go from one extreme to the other sometimes. You try to get away from that where it’s more steady and then they play well or the way you want them to more often.”
Before one of their most significant games of the season, the Minutemen (12-7, 4-2 A-10) were forced to make an emergency landing on Tuesday night en route to St. Bonaventure.
After smoke was seen in the cockpit of the plane, flight attendants informed the passengers that an emergency landing was necessary.
For the UMass players, including senior guard Anthony Gurley, it was a surreal experience.
“It was pretty scary,” Gurley said after the win against the Bonnies. “You never know what’s going on when you’re that high in the air so it’s not easy to not panic.”
Despite arriving in Olean, N.Y., the home of St. Bonaventure, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, the Minutemen didn’t let the change in routine affect them that night.
“It could have been easy for it to be a distraction but myself and my teammates really showed that we were focused,” Gurley said. “We tried not to let the adversity that we were facing get in the way of what we had to do.”
Gurley scored 28 points on 9-for-17 shooting to help UMass win 78-69. Sophomore Javorn Farrell chipped in 16 points in the victory as the Minutemen shot 52.7 percent for the contest.
The defense, meanwhile, held the Bonnies to under 36 percent from the field while claiming a 39-32 edge in rebounding.
“This is a tough environment and the last couple days haven’t really been easy for us,” Gurley said. “We just stuck together as a family and as a team and we came out with the win.”
The victory gives UMass 12 wins in just its 19th contest this year, which matches its season win total for each of the past two years. In the A-10, the
Minutemen are taking care of business, defeating teams who are not in the top tier of the league. Their two conference losses this year have come to NCAA tournament-caliber programs in Xavier and Richmond.
With their win total, UMass has all but secured a spot in the postseason, something which it struggled to obtain in Kellogg’s first two seasons.
Nevertheless, the Minutemen have tough opponents still remaining on the schedule and will have to continue maturing if they plan on making a case to play deep into March.
Jay Asser can be reached at email@example.com.