Men’s Basketball: Team notebook

By Scott Feldman, Collegian Staff

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Basketball is a team game, but sometimes it is the one-on-one matchups that determine who wins a game. Saturday night, the key matchup was between standout guards Dionte Christmas and Ricky Harris.

Temple had Christmas (21.3 points per game), while the Massachusetts men’s basketball team had Harris (19.4). The players are first and second in the Atlantic 10 in scoring, respectively, and would find themselves matched up against each other on defense for much the game. Everyone figured whichever team’s star won the individual matchup would win the game.

The only person who disagreed was Ricky Harris.

“I don’t want to get into that one-on-one Christmas, Harris talk,” Harris said following the game. “He’s a pro basically so I give my teammates credit because they helped me out on screens, he was coming off of 1,000 screens, that was the most I got hit all year.”

Christmas was in control of the matchup early, but down the stretch Harris and the Minutemen dominated in UMass’ 79-75 victory at the Mullins Center.

The matchup played out like a 12-round heavyweight boxing match. Christmas dominated the opening rounds by scoring eight quick points in the first five minutes, before Harris had even scored a point and suddenly the Owls were up 22-11.

After the early explosion, UMass gave Harris some help defensively and Harris found his scoring touch. Not surprisingly, UMass climbed back into the game as Harris outscored Christmas 9-2 the rest of the half.

At the half, Christmas had scored 10, Harris nine, and UMass trailed Temple 37-33.

Both men came out of the locker room ready to attack. The guards traded jumpers to open the half. For the first 13 minutes of the second half, Christmas held a slight 26-17 edge in scoring and Temple had a 66-63 lead.

With UMass leading 71-70 with under two minutes remaining, Harris a fatal blow by drilling a 3-pointer to give the Minutemen a four-point lead.

On Temple’s next possession, Harris and his teammates smothered Christmas,, denying him the ball, forcing an off-balance floater by Temple reserve guard Juan Fernandez. The Minutemen quickly got the ball to Harris, Temple fouled him, and he calmly sank two free-throws.

Temple’s next possession was a mirror image, as UMass got a stop, Christmas never touched the ball, and Harris got the ball, got fouled and sank two more free-throws.

With Temple down 78-70, everyone knew Christmas was getting the ball, but Harris rose to the challenge and blocked Christmas’ 3-point attempt.

Final stat-lines for the bout: 26 points for Christmas, 24 for Harris, but the big difference came in the final seven minutes; Harris had seven points and two assists while Christmas was completely shut out.

Love for C-Lowe

Chris Lowe’s coach, his teammates, the opposing coach and even Lowe himself all agreed on one thing; that tonight was Lowe’s best game of the season.

Only one problem, he was so good all-around that nobody could agree on what he did best.

With a stat line of 13 points, 11 assists, six rebounds and only two turnovers, Lowe was such a force in UMass’ 78-73 win over that everyone had something positive to say.

Harris, Lowe’s partner in the backcourt, raved about Lowe’s passing skills, commenting on how much simpler the game becomes with a great point guard.

“He makes the game so much easier, by getting to the rim and kicking [the ball] to me,” Harris said. “I give him all the credit; I just got to reward him by knocking down the shot.”

UMass coach Derek Kellogg praised Lowe’s rebounding, noting that his six boards tied for the team-lead and mentioned that whenever Lowe grabbed a rebound, the Minutemen’s fast break could start much quicker.

Temple coach Fran Dunphy talked about his penetration into the lane and how his defense was disrupted by his ability to hit floaters in the lane and create plays for his big men.

As for Lowe himself? He feels that his best attribute is that he always improves as UMass goes deeper into the season.

“Yes, definitely,” Lowe said when asked if he thought this was his best game of the season. “In A-10 play I just get tougher.”

On the rebound

Despite Tony Gaffney having only five rebounds, Temple only grabbed three more rebounds than UMass.

Totals were 39-36, but the big reason for the relative parity on the boards was rebounding by the UMass guards. Lowe, Harris and Anthony Gurley combined for 14 rebounds. This is a great sign for Kellogg, who needs good rebounding from his backcourt to make up for UMass’ lack of size.

Scott Feldman can be reached at [email protected]