UMass off to driving start

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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Michael Phillis/Collegian

With big road victories over Syracuse and Boston College behind them, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team will face the likes of Toledo, Central Connecticut State and Boston University over the next three Saturdays.

But the schedule over winter break will get tougher for the Minutemen (7-2), including games over Houston – Dayton and undefeated Vanderbilt. In all, UMass will play 10 games in between now and when classes resume on Jan. 28 – including seven games at the Mullins Center.

Most importantly for the Minutemen, Atlantic 10 Conference play will begin on Jan. 9, a tilt with Saint Joseph’s in Amherst. Before that, UMass will finish its non-conference schedule with the aforementioned matchups against Toledo, CCSU, BU, Houston and Vanderbilt.

The Minutemen stunned Boston College, 83-80, Wednesday night at the Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill and gave them their second marquee win away from the Mullins Center. Ricky Harris scored 25 points to lead UMass with Gary Forbes chipping in 17 points after halftime (22 total) and Chris Lowe adding 17 points to go along with six assists.

Much like the win over Syracuse, the Minutemen battled adversity at the end of the game to escape with the victory. UMass held the lead for much of the game against the Eagles, but a missed lay-up by Harris with 12 seconds left gave BC a chance to tie the game.

BC point guard and leading-scorer Tyrese Rice had a good look for the game-tying 3-pointer with four seconds remaining, but the shot missed short, and Forbes grabbed the rebound and proceeded to throw the ball up in the air in celebration.

Forbes was thrilled to be a part of the UMass team that beat BC for the first time since 1999.

“That was the first thing we mentioned when we began scouting this team – that [UMass] hasn’t beaten BC in eight years,” Forbes said. “[BC] coach [Al] Skinner was 7-0 coming into this game against us. We wanted to be that team to finally get that hump off our shoulders.”

But UMass coach Travis Ford cautioned his team at the post-game press conference not to get too ahead of itself.

“We’re still a team trying to prove itself. It’s a good win, no question,” Ford said after the victory over BC, shrugging off the notion that it was a statement win. “We’re still a team that’s trying to go under the radar and a team that was picked [to finish] eighth in our league. We’re trying to go about our business underground if we can and not make too much noise.”

The first four remaining non-conference games will all be played at the Mullins Center. The final non-conference tilt against Vanderbilt is in Nashville, Tenn. The Commodores are currently 10-0, and have a legitimate chance to be 14-0 when the Minutemen fly down for the Jan. 5 matchup. Vanderbilt has home games against Tennessee State, Tennessee-Martin, Iona and Rice on the slate before facing UMass.

Ford added Vanderbilt to the schedule after Kentucky backed out of this year’s game at the TD Banknorth Garden.

The Minutemen will play five A-10 games during the break: Saint Joseph’s (twice), Dayton (7-1), Charlotte (6-2) and a big matchup with No. 17 Xavier (8-1) in Amherst.

The strength and depth of the A-10 so far this season is better far superior then in year’s past. UMass was picked to finish eighth in the conference in the preseason poll, but are beginning to surprise teams.

Duquesne (6-3) and Rhode Island (10-1) are much better than some critics anticipated entering the season. With the big victories over BC and Syracuse, UMass is getting the big-game experience and success that could prove useful during conference play.

Check the Daily Collegian’s Web site for frequent coverage of the men’s basketball team during winter break.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]