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UMass looks to bounce back against tough Colonial squad

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

WASHINGTON – The Massachusetts men’s basketball team didn’t have much time to dwell on Wednesday’s 91-80 loss to George Mason. UMass quickly shifted focus and travels to George Washington on Saturday for a game which, somewhat surprisingly, is one of the toughest of the season.

The Colonials (19-5, 7-3 Atlantic 10) were picked to finish 10th in the conference preseason standings, a relative afterthought in an already deep conference. But behind a balanced scoring attack – four of George Washington’s five starters are averaging double-digit scoring totals per game – and a stingy 1-3-1 zone, the Colonials are the surprise of the conference and have picked up votes in the AP Top 25 poll.

“I think that would be a big time statement for us,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said on potentially earning a victory. “Obviously, we know how good they’ve played (at home) thus far this year and where they are in the national rankings and RPI and things of that nature. So it’s gonna be a tough game, but it would be a big win for us if we could pull it off.”

Junior center Cady Lalanne, a player Kellogg acknowledged needs to bring a more consistent performance, agreed.

“A good win on the road could really change everybody’s mindset and the mood,” Lalanne said. “Everyone would know there’s still confidence left on the team and that we can still be successful.”

George Washington has yet to lose at the Charles E. Smith Center, posting a perfect 12-0 record. Coach Mike Lonergan’s squad generally plays eight players consistently and predominantly features a zone defense that’s intensified this season. The Colonials are allowing just 66.5 points per game on 41 percent shooting. Their defense only strengthens beyond the arc, holding opponents to 32.5 percent 3-point shooting.

The Colonials are led by guard Maurice Creek, who is averaging 14.1 points per game in his first season with George Washington after transferring from Indiana. They’re also rely heavily on forward Isaiah Armwood, who leads the team in minutes played per game (31.3) and rebounds (8.4) while chipping in 12.1 points.

UMass (19-5, 6-4 A-10) is also monitoring the health of point guard Chaz Williams. Kellogg noted that Williams is dealing with a combination of injuries to his ribs and his back, a recurring issue he’s dealt with in recent games.

“He’s just gotta play through it, more on the defensive end of the floor,” Kellogg said. “I think he was just getting hit with a lot of screens last game and it kind of affected him.”

Williams shot 3-of-15 in Wednesday’s loss and scored just eight points. He’s dealt with the pain for some time, but the effects are starting to take a toll on him.

“I’ve been banged up since the St. Joe’s game but I still keep giving it a go in practice and stuff like that because of my competitive nature,” Williams said. “But sometimes you’re banged up and hurt and you need to take a little rest and that’s what coach is telling me.”

The Minutemen have dropped four of their last seven games and have struggled to maintain consistency and energy level during that skid. Williams pointed out that the struggles have come early in games, something the team plans to change on Saturday.

“I just feel like we’re out of sync a little bit,” Williams said. “Offensively, some guys are out of sync and defensive we’re not all in the right spots at the right time. So I feel like tomorrow, early, we’ll come out focused mentally and everything will be fine.”

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at mchiarel@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli

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