UMass basketball hits road at St. Bonaventure
If the No. 21 Massachusetts men’s basketball team has accrued frequent traveler points this season, it may soon want to cash in.
The Minutemen (17-2, 4-1 Atlantic 10) return to the road yet again on Wednesday to play their fourth road game in the past five. Awaiting their arrival is a familiar foe in St. Bonaventure (12-8, 2-4 A-10), a team which nearly played spoiler at Mullins Center almost three weeks ago before falling to UMass 73-68.
In that game, the Minutemen needed a Trey Davis 3-pointer with one minute, 22 seconds remaining to finally take the lead 69-68. They trailed by as much as 13 in the game and had trouble generating consistency. As UMass heads to the Reilly Center on Wednesday, where the Bonnies are 8-1 this season, there’s a sense of urgency to steer clear of trouble the second time around.
“We weren’t really focused with what we wanted to do on offense,” senior forward Raphiael Putney said.
“(St. Bonaventure) slowed it down with the zone (defense) a little bit, (and) we rushed a lot of stuff. I think we need to be more focused on what we need to do to win a basketball game, especially in a tough gym.”
The Minutemen have spent much of January on the road, an exhausting proposition for a nationally ranked team attempting to thwart potential spoilers. For guard Chaz Williams, maintaining a level of focus necessary to win continues in the gym.
“Sometimes you just have to go watch extra film or pay extra attention in practice,” Williams said. “Just ask coach for extra help, because losing focus sometimes takes away from what you want to do.”
There’s a sense of familiarity between the two teams, a common theme in a tightly contested Atlantic 10 Conference. In the first meeting, Bonnies center Youssou Ndoye blocked five shots and was a disruptive defense force within the paint. Putney, who led the Minutemen with 17 points in the win, noted the need to improve in transition and in rebounding.
Both teams also saw their respective leading scorers struggle. Williams and St. Bonaventure guard Matthew Wright scored eight points apiece and combined to shoot just 4-of-13 from the floor.
The Bonnies haven’t defeated a ranked opponent at home since Jan. 15, 2000 when they defeated No. 23 Temple.
With the fairly quick turnaround between games, UMass coach Derek Kellogg noted that outside of a “few intricate details,” most teams won’t radically change their approaches. Ultimately, energy level and confidence are the two most crucial elements to a winning formula.
“The reality of it is if you’re a guy who is changing exactly how you play at this time you’re probably not doing your team a huge service,” Kellogg said. “I think they know what we’re doing, we understand what they’re trying to do.”
The Minutemen also took note of their stock in the national landscape. UMass dropped eight spots in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, moving from No. 13 to No. 21 following a 58-55 loss to Richmond.
“It’s a setback for a major comeback as we see it in our eyes,” Putney said. “We’ve proved that we’re a basketball team that can win games down the stretch because of the maturity of the players we have on our team.”
Williams, the unequivocal leader of the team, took the news in stride. He noted that the team wasn’t paying much attention to the drop in stature, but didn’t shy away from the motivational aspect either.
“I think it’s a humbling moment for us as a team at this moment because some of us may have gotten a little too big-headed,” he said. “With where we were ranked and how things were going, maybe that’s why we were getting into tight games.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Mark Chiarelli can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.