It will not be an easy road to travel for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team heading into the postseason.
The Minutemen (15-12, 7-7 A-10) have two games left in their regular season, with the first being a showdown with No. 24 Temple on Wednesday night. The Owls are UMass’ first ranked opponent of the season.
“[The team’s] mindset [is] good, they seem to be ready for tomorrow night’s game,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “I’m interested to see the actual game tomorrow night against what I think is a very, very good team. They’ll be a formidable opponent by a long stretch”
The Owls (22-6, 12-2 A-10) enter the Mullins Center in second place in the A-10 table, a hair behind Xavier. Despite being in second place, Kellogg referred to Temple as a “benchmark” for the A-10 conference, as the Owls continue to perform well.
This year’s top performance is headed by senior forward Lavoy Allen, who just won A-10 Player of Week and Big 5 Player of the Week honors. Despite these accolades, Allen (11.2 points per game) is bested by two other scorers on the Owls including junior guard Ramone Moore (15 points) and junior forward Scootie Randall (11.6 points).
Kellogg cited Temple’s recent 17-point loss to No. 4 Duke Feb. 22 as an example of its athletic ability. The Owls stuck with the Blue Devils for the majority of the first half and the beginning of the second, until Duke pulled away with just over 17 minutes remaining.
“I think if you play well against a team that that’s good, obviously it gives you [confidence] that you can compete with some of the best teams in the country,” Kellogg said on Temple.
While the Owls are coming in fresh off a victory against George Washington, the Minutemen suffered a 72-51 loss to La Salle. Senior guard Anthony Gurley was held to four points, his lowest of the season.
“I think we’re just putting that behind us and looking forward to Wednesday night’s game,” Gurley said. “It’s going to be a big time game for us.”
With the recent loss, Kellogg said his team is ready to rebound against Temple.
“They’re on a mission, and I’m thinking we’re on a mission in our own right,” Kellogg said. “[They are] different missions, but at the same token, the same mission.”
Historically, the Minutemen are behind Temple in the series, 41-20, though they have won the last three home games between the two teams. However, the Owls won the last meeting between the two teams, 76-64, in Philadelphia, Pa.
These three-straight home victories add on to a 13-5 advantage that UMass holds over Temple. Not only are the 18 games the most played against any opponent at the Mullins Center, but the 13 home wins are the most against any single Minutemen opponent.
There is more on the line than just the home streak with Temple, however. If the Minutemen are victorious, and both Dayton and St. Bonaventure lose, then UMass would clinch a home game in the first round of the A-10 playoffs.
The final A-10 push will happen on Saturday, when the Minutemen play at Fordham in their last regular season game of the season.
Senior guard Gary Correia said the team has been thinking about how it wants to close out the season, which includes the Minutemen asking, “why not?”
“Why not finish out strong?” Correia said. “Why not finish out the season the way we started it? Why not figure out how we can win these last two and then win four in a row to get a berth into the NCAA tournament? Why not us? I mean, everybody else does it.
“Obviously somebody has to win four games, so why can’t it be us?” Correia continued. “So we’re just trying to figure out how to do that and see what happens from there.”
Herb Scribner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.