UMass lose to Rams

By Mike Marzelli Collegian Staff

BRONX, N.Y. – On Saturday afternoon, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team delved further into ineptitude than ever before, and it was not a pretty sight.

Before 2,232 at the historic Rose Hill Gymnasium, the Minutemen fell 75-61 to a lowly Fordham squad that had been losers of nine in a row.

Amidst questions of which direction the program is truly heading, UMass (9-15, 2-3 Atlantic 10) coach Steve Lappas tried to remain upbeat.

“I’m disappointed, but I’m not discouraged,” Lappas said. “I still feel our young kids have a lot left in their tanks.

“We didn’t play well, especially defensively in the first half. We dug a big hole, and it was certainly a tough one to get out of.”

Now losers of four in a row, the Minutemen face the daunting task of hosting undefeated No. 2 St. Joseph’s on Wednesday night at the Mullins Center. It is the first of four remaining games for UMass, which is now guaranteed a losing record both in the Atlantic 10 and overall for the third consecutive season. The frustration is beginning to mount.

“I don’t think anyone’s going through the motions,” junior captain Anthony Anderson said. “The effort is there, we just aren’t getting it done and it isn’t getting any easier.”

“I knew we’d have ups and downs,” freshman guard Art Bowers added. “But I never expected anything like this.”

The Rams (5-18, 2-4 A-10), who had lost their last nine contests by an average of 19 points prior to yesterday, beat UMass for the second consecutive year at Rose Hill – the oldest facility in Division I.

Fordham, which shot 65.4 percent in the first half and 53.8 percent on the game, was led by leading scorer Michael Haynes’ 18 points. Point guard Drew Williamson – inserted into the starting lineup in place of injured starter Jermaine Anderson – chipped in with 15 while backcourt mate Derrick Breyland added 14 points and five assists.

The lone bright spots for the Minutemen included a team-high 15 points from freshman Maurice Maxwell, along with 11 points each from guard Chris Chadwick and sophomore forward Jeff Viggiano.

Another area of concern for Lappas, however, is the play of five-time A-10 Rookie of the Week Rashaun Freeman. The sophomore forward scored just four points and eight rebounds, and was benched in favor of Stephane Lasme for all but six minutes of the second half.

Freeman has shot just 8 for 27 in his last four games.

“I’m very concerned about [Freeman],” said Lappas, who did not seem opposed to the possibility of removing his leading scorer from the starting lineup. “Obviously, [opponents] are watching tape and doing things defensively on him, and he’s struggling.”

The Rams took it to the Maroon and White from the outset, repeatedly slicing through UMass’ man to man defense to turn an early 10-9 advantage at the 15:13 mark into a commanding lead with a 17-4 run.

The Minutemen eventually shifted to a zone, but Fordham was able to alter its focus to the perimeter and connect on five of nine attempts from beyond the arc in the first half to jump out to a 39-20 lead at intermission.

The Rams took their largest lead of the game with 35 seconds remaining in the opening frame, when a Haynes 3-pointer made the score 39-18.

“Our defense in the first half was awful,” Lappas said. “Our man-to-man has taken a hit in the last month, because we’ve been practicing five or six defenses, rather than one or two.”

UMass attempted to make a go of it to begin the second half, as five points from Viggiano sparked a 7-0 run. However, Fordham responded with an 11-2 run that pushed its lead to 50-29 with just over 14 minutes remaining, and did not look back.

“We tried to make a big comeback, but it’s tough when you dig that big of a hole for yourself on the road,” Lappas said. “This is a tough one

to swallow, but we have to pick ourselves up and go from here.”