As Brower grows, so does UM

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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Both Ricky Harris and the Massachusetts men’s basketball team have been struggling and both are certainly hearing about it.

The sophomore shooting guard has not reached double figures in scoring in two of his last three games – marking the only such times all season. It’s no surprise that the Minutemen (14-7, 3-4 Atlantic 10) dropped those two games, one to Xavier (Harris scored seven) and two games later to Saint Louis (six points).

It appears to many that the struggles for Harris and the team are interlocked – if Harris does well, so do the Minutemen. If he doesn’t, well, they don’t either. But that doesn’t totally appear to hold true.

Harris has reached the 25-point plateau five times this season. After narrowly beating Syracuse and Boston College in the first two occurrences, the Minutemen have lost all three games Harris has scored 25 or more. In fact, in each of their last four losses, Harris led the team in scoring.

The catalyst at the moment is Etienne Brower. His performance level in any given game is indicative of the outcome. In the last four wins for the Minutemen, Brower has averaged 16 points and eight rebounds per game, while shooting 57 percent from the field and even better from the 3-point line (58 percent on 11-of-19 shooting).

In the last three of those games, Brower is 11-of-15 from the perimeter (73.3 percent) and has done all of his damage off the bench – providing the spark in the second unit that coach Travis Ford is looking for.

“He’s our x-factor; we need him to play well. When he plays well we usually win. We’re going to need a big game from him,” teammate Gary Forbes said, referring to tonight’s game against Rhode Island.

Things have been quite different in the recent losses for UMass. Over the last five, Brower has really struggled from everywhere except the free-throw line. He played fairly well in the last two losses – although he did foul out against Saint Louis – but in the three previous losses he had the worst stretch of his career.

Brower hit just one of his 16 attempts from 3-point range and wasn’t much better from inside the arc, connecting on 4-of-18 shots. He missed all eight field goals in the first loss to Saint Joseph’s, fouling out before registering a single point. In loss No. 2 to the Hawks, Brower hit 3-of-11 from the field and missed all but one from the perimeter.

But his worst game came before that, in what could be considered UMass’s best opportunity to make a statement to the NCAA Selection Committee.

On Jan. 5, the Minutemen traveled to Nashville, Tenn., to take on then-No. 15 and undefeated Vanderbilt (14-0). UMass hung tough throughout, even holding a 1-point lead heading into the half.

Brower finished just one point and one rebound shy of a double-double, but it was a misleading performance. The senior forward shot 2-of-15 from the floor, and missed all five of his 3-point attempts. Had he shot better, the outcome could have been different.

Currently, Brower is one of four UMass players averaging double figures at 11.8 points per game. He is second on the team in rebounding and is one of the team’s best free throw shooters. Despite the rough stretch of 3-point shooting, Brower has hit a solid 38.1 percent of his 97 attempts.

That is mostly due to his red-hot shooting to the beginning of the season, which not coincidentally, was when UMass was playing at or near its best. The Minutemen were 6-2 after eight games to start the season, and Brower was a big reason why.

During that span, Brower averaged 13.5 points per game on superb shooting from the field (57.6 percent) and from the 3-point line (21-of-38 for 55.3 percent). When he hit multiple 3-point shots in a game during that period, UMass was 6-0 and 0-2 when he didn’t.

Brower was particularly deadly from long range in the first six games of the season, hitting at a 63.3 percent clip – the tops in the country at that time.

Brower has had his ups and downs this season, as have the Minutemen.

But as one goes, it seems, so does the other.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]