Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass wins without Anderson

By Bob McGovern, Collegian Staff

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Before every game, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team huddles up with senior captain Anthony Anderson in the middle. They jump, holler and go through a three-beat chant before they break off and hit the trenches.

Last night was slightly different.

Anderson was still in the middle of this pre-game ritual, but this time he was in street clothes. Ailing with back injuries that flared up during UMass’ 63-56 loss to Fordham on Saturday, Anderson sat and watched as his teammates picked up the slack and downed visiting Florida State 78-68.

Yesterday is a further illustration of the fact that the Minutemen don’t need their ideal starting five to win. However, it has shed light on a rather peculiar trend.

In all games that Anderson has not dressed, the Maroon and White have gone 4-0. During Anderson’s midseason suspension, the Minutemen went on to win three straight games over Davidson (Dec. 19), Rider (Dec. 23) and Boston University (Dec. 28). The three-game win streak was also sandwiched between two losses, both with Anderson starting.

UMass coach Steve Lappas has noticed the trend but sees it as more as a coincidence than anything else.

“Anthony is such a good team player that he fits in well the way we’re trying to do things.” Lappas said. “I think that there is some coincidence, but there are probably some guys — Lawrence Carrier, Artie Bowers — that know they are going to play more and relax a little bit more, who knows.”

If anything, Bowers has reaped the benefits of Anderson’s absence. In the four games that Anderson didn’t dress, Bowers has averaged 15.3 points per game, as opposed to the 7.5 ppg he has averaged to date.

Bowers has been efficient in other aspects of the game as well. He grabbed five rebounds on top of 13 points against Davidson, and dished out seven assists last night.

The Minutemen had five players in double figures last night, showing a type of cohesion that has not been the norm this season. Adding to this balanced scoring attack was the aggressive play of junior Jeff Viggiano.

In Anderson’s absence, Viggiano was the most experienced player on the floor, with three years of playing time under coach Lappas. He had 11 points, three assists and two rebounds on the night, showing that his previously injured ankle is recovering as planned.

Viggiano was quick to mention how helpful Anderson was on the sidelines. In the character of a true captain, Anderson was a vocal member of the team.

“When we were in the huddle and we were in the time-out huddles, he was just trying to keep us motivated.” Viggiano said. “When the game got close he was telling us not to worry. I think he would make a great coach because he thinks just like Coach Lappas.”

Another player who picked up his game with Anderson on the bench was sophomore Maurice Maxwell. Maxwell had a career game against the Seminoles, dropping 19 points, with five rebounds and six steals.

Before the warmups, and well before game time, Anderson took Maxwell aside and told him what he needed to do.

“He talked to me before the game and told me I had to step up and not to pass up open shots.” Maxwell said. “He told me to keep up the energy and keep everybody up. When you have a player like him, it’s impossible to take it for granted. I know we need him.”

Although the Minutemen have had an unusual amount of success with their captain on the bench, it is clear where they stand. No one questions how valuable Anderson is when he’s available, or whether or not they are a better team with him.

Quite the contrary, actually. It seems that the Maroon and White takes it upon itself to pick up the slack and mirror the intensity of its fallen leader, whenever he isn’t on the court.

“We all knew with Anthony being out, our leader and our go-to guy, that our offense would have to step up.” Viggiano said. “Of course you want Ant [Anderson], but there is nothing we can do to change that, we just had to step up and give a little more.”

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