UMass looks to clinch A-10 tournament bye in regular season finale

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian staff

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Michael Phillis, Collegian

Just one regular season game remains for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team this season.

Tomorrow’s road matchup with an uncharacteristically poor George Washington team is all that stands in UMass’s way for a first-round bye in next week’s Atlantic 10 Tournament – and a possible at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.

If the Minutemen (20-9, 9-6 A-10) play anything like they did Wednesday night in a 37-point thumping over La Salle, the Colonials (9-15, 5-9 A-10) will have their hands full and UMass may dance for the first time in 10 years.

“We got a big game on Saturday,” UMass coach Travis Ford said after defeating the Explorers on Senior Night. “We played well [on Wednesday] and I hope this carries over. Every game presents a new challenge and we’re happy that we have won some games here lately.”

Things have gone well as of late for the Minutemen, who have won five consecutive games after a slow start in conference play to re-enter the discussion for an at-large berth. A victory over the Colonials would assure UMass of the third-seed in the A-10 Tournament, which runs from March 12-15 in Atlantic City, N.J. If Richmond loses to Xavier (ranked No. 8 in the country) on Saturday, the Minutemen can still get a bye in the first round even with a loss against GW.

The Colonials have played much better basketball of late, and look to continue that tomorrow and help spoil UMass’s strong season. GW has won four of its last six games following a seven-game losing streak.

“George Washington is a tough place to play. We are going to be playing for a lot, and a lot is at stake,” Ford said. “They are playing their best basketball and have made some adjustments the last couple weeks with their basketball team.”

The four most recent wins for the Colonials came against some of the upper-tier teams in the conference. George Washington handily beat Rhode Island – a team ranked in the Top 25 for several weeks – by 17 points and topped Richmond, a team tied with UMass for third in the conference. The first of the four big wins came against Dayton in a narrow victory over a team that was once-ranked No. 15 in the country.

In last year’s meeting between UMass and GW, the Minutemen escaped the Mullins Center with a 91-84 victory. Chris Lowe (seven points, seven assists) and Gary Forbes (16 points off the bench) helped secure the victory.

The two are expected to lead UMass this year, as well. Forbes led all players with 26 points and 11 rebounds in the win over La Salle, and Lowe became just the third player in school history to record a triple-double with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists.

Maureece Rice, the starting point guard for the Colonials, had a career-night against UMass last season with 30 points. But this season has been a struggle for the senior, with his scoring average below 10 points per game. He’ll defer the majority of the scoring responsibility to a pair of junior forwards, Rob Diggs and Wynton Witherspoon – the two players averaging double figures for the Colonials.

How UMass handles the duo in the low-post will likely decide the outcome – and possibly its NCAA Tournament hopes.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]