UMass men’s hoops travels south for Puerto Rico Tip-Off
The Massachusetts men’s basketball team didn’t have much time to dwell over its come-from-behind victory over Harvard in its season opener.
That is, unless the members of the team did it on a plane ride to Puerto Rico.
UMass (1-0) is back in action on Thursday night when it takes on Providence in its first game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
The Minutemen and Friars are two of eight teams in the tournament, joining Akron, Oklahoma State, UNC Asheville, Tennessee, North Carolina State and Pennsylvania State.
Providence (2-0) comes into the matchup relatively untested, blowing out Bryant last Monday and squeaking out a one-point win over New Jersey Institute of Technology in its opener last Saturday.
The Friars run out a four-guard lineup, led by junior guard Bryce Cotton. Cotton, a Tucson, Ariz., native, leads the team with 22.5 points per game and has yet to take a rest in a game this season.
Vincent Council, one of Providence’s premier offensive threats, is still nursing a hamstring injury that will keep him sidelined for four to five weeks, according to a Wednesday CBS Sports report. Council suffered the injury in the Friars’ season-opener. He averaged 15.9 points per game a year ago to lead the team.
Providence also has slightly more size then UMass’ last counterpart, the Crimson. The Friars’ average height in its starting lineup is 6-foot-6, while Harvard averaged 6-foot-5. Junior forward Kadeem Batts (6-foot-9, 245 pounds) mans the post, averaging 18.5 points per game – shooting a ridiculous 64 percent from the field – and grabs 8.5 boards per contest.
The post presence of Batts might spell more playing time for Minutemen freshmen big men Tyler Bergantino and Izzy Freeman, who didn’t see the floor in the win over the Crimson because of the pace of the game, UMass coach Derek Kellogg said after the game.
“I think Tyler and Izzy will play more in a traditional game where they’re playing a couple big guys or a bigger team,” Kellogg said in a postgame interview after Tuesday’s game.
UMass comes into Thursday’s game fresh off its momentous triumph in the final seconds over Harvard, as Sampson Carter drilled a 3-pointer with one second remaining on the clock to give the home team a walk-off win.
But despite the win, it didn’t come pretty. The Minutemen appeared to have their grasp on the game in the first half, but allowed the Crimson to hang around and handed them the lead after failing to capitalize on easy looks and committing eight turnovers in the final frame.
UMass also struggled from beyond the arc, shooting just 33 percent and just 25 percent from 3 in the first half.
“I think we were fortunate,” Kellogg said. “And when you’re trying to get off to a good start or have a good season, you need to be fortunate more often than not.”
But Kellogg still was pleased to come away with the win, and called it a big one for the program.
“We’re ecstatic about the win,” he said. “It wasn’t exactly the way I envisioned it as I tried to sleep (on Monday night), but we’ll take it and head on down to Puerto Rico.”
Projecting the rest of the tournament
The Minutemen’s final two opponents in the tournament depend on the results of the remaining first round matchups.
If UMass wins, it will play the winner of NC State and Penn State on Saturday. If the Minutemen lose to Providence, they would face the loser of the Wolfpack and Nittany Lions.
NC State (1-0) blew out Miami (Ohio), 97-59, in its season opener last Friday, while Penn State scratched out a 65-58 victory over St. Francis last Friday.
Stephen Sellner can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @Stephen_Sellner.