UMass men’s hoops looks to keep foot on the gas pedal at Charlotte
Coming off its biggest win of the season Wednesday night at La Salle, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team learned first hand that in the Atlantic 10, one or two impressive showings doesn’t carry over from one contest to the next.
So when the Minutemen (14-5, 4-2 A-10) travel to Charlotte on Saturday to take on a 49ers (16-4, 4-2 A-10) team without its leading scorer, DeMario Mayfield, it’s safe to say UMass won’t be overlooking the opponent.
“We’ll be ready to play,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said after Wednesday’s win. “These guys are maturing; they feel like this is a good opportunity for us. I’m not saying we’re definitely going to win the game or we’re going to win, but I do think they’re gonna be ready to play.”
The Minutemen strung together their most complete game of the season against La Salle, which had knocked off Virginia Commonwealth and Butler last week to bring the Explorers into the conversation of the A-10’s best. But UMass controlled the affair from the opening tip and didn’t dig themselves any holes, which led to the frantic finish at the end.
The Minutemen won’t get any chance to dwell on the victory, however, as they travel down south to face a Charlotte team that’s 10-1 in home games this season.
The Minutemen caught a break on Wednesday with the announcement that Mayfield, who leads the 49ers with his 11.7 points per game, had been suspended indefinitely after a “violation of athletic department policy.” Mayfield, a junior guard, started a pair of games last week — his first starts of the season. In those tilts, he finished in double figures in scoring on both occasions.
Kellogg hasn’t read too much into the void left by Mayfield’s absence, but merely thinks teams have to look to the next guy to step up. The Minutemen have faced a similar situation this year with the loss of starting guard Jesse Morgan three weeks ago.
“I think everybody’s lost some guys,” Kellogg said. “I think teams just have to adapt and play with who you have.”
Despite its impressive mark this season, Charlotte comes in fresh off an 82-54 beatdown at George Washington on Saturday, raising some questions about the 49ers’ standing in the conference.
But Kellogg and UMass know how cruel A-10 play can be, particularly this year, as the Minutemen are one of six teams clustered at the top of the conference standings with a pair of losses in the A-10, with Butler in first with a 4-1 mark. Kellogg called league play “unforgiving for everybody” after Wednesday’s victory.
With the win against La Salle, UMass improved to 6-1 on the road, a far cry from its blatant road woes from a year ago when it finished 7-7 in road tilts.
But this is a different Minutemen team than last year’s squad — one with an additional year of maturity and another year together as a group, which leads Kellogg to believe his guys are enjoying the road.
“I think it’s generally just that the guys are enjoying each other even more of being a team,” Kellogg said. “I think that’s evident by how they continue to fight and play, especially on the road, where they kind of seem to be coming together and trying to figure out ways to win.”
Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. The contest can be listened to on the radio on WEEI (105.5 FM).
Stephen Sellner can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @Stephen_Sellner.