Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Play of UMass basketball remains inconsistent

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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After embarrassing losses against Houston and Vanderbilt directly before conference play, the Massachusetts basketball team gave its fans little reason to think an upset victory over Dayton (14-1) was in order.

It was. And the Minutemen did it in impressive fashion ‘- beating the Flyers by 13 points. With the impressive win, a subsequent victory over a lesser Saint Louis team seemed like a sure thing.

It wasn’t. After the disappointing loss to the Billikens, a tough home game awaited against Temple and the best player in the Atlantic 10, Dionte Christmas. In keeping with the theme, UMass was impressive and pulled out a five-point win over the Owls in Amherst.

Again, UMass continued the trend, losing its following game against Charlotte ‘- bringing its conference record to 2-2 and overall mark to 7-10. The Minutemen bucked the trend on Saturday night losing their second game in a row, falling to La Salle 62-54.

Bonner returns

Seven-footer Luke Bonner made his presence felt in a big way in his return from a knee injury on Dec. 20 against Hofstra. Coming off the bench, Bonner put up career-highs in both points (15) and rebounds (nine), despite playing a meager 18 minutes.

Bonner, who now starts in the low-post alongside Tony Gaffney, has been inconsistent since coming back, but recently had another big game against Charlotte with 15 points and a new career-high 11 rebounds. In 11 games this season (eight starts) Bonner averages 6.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. He has also hit 38.5 percent of his 3-point attempts (15-of-39).

With Bonner back in the lineup, 6-foot-6 sophomore Matt Glass has seen his minutes decrease drastically. Instead of playing about 15 minutes per game on the block, Glass’ minutes have been cut in half but he’s been freer on the wing to shoot 3-pointers

.Wilcher leaves‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘

Redshirt freshman Travon Wilcher decided to leave Amherst in mid-January and transfer to Orono, Maine, where he will play for the Black Bears next season. He is already enrolled in school at the University.

After playing at Lee Academy Prep School in Maine, Wilcher had to sit out last season at UMass until he became eligible. He played in just six games this season, a total of 17 minutes. He finished with four points in his UMass career.

Consistently good

From one game to the next, it’s tough to know which UMass team will come to play. But there are two sure things every night: Tony Gaffney’s monster effort and 20 points from Ricky Harris.

In 81 games entering this season, Gaffney had exactly zero double-doubles. This season he already has seven, including two near triple-doubles against Boston College and Holy Cross. Gaffney had another one Saturday night, finishing with 19 points and 11 rebounds.

Gaffney averages a team-high 10.8 rebounds and 4.61 blocks per game to go along with 11.5 points. He has the top 10 rebounding performances this season, including three games with 16 or more. Gaffney still ranks in the top 10 in the country in both rebounds (ninth) and blocks (second) per game.

Harris is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 18.9 per game. He has been solid from long range, connecting on 54 3-pointers on 40.9 percent efficiency. Harris has the top nine scoring performances this season, including a career-high 35 against Boston College on Dec. 6. He’s the only player on the team to have at least 21 points in a game this season. However, Harris struggled Saturday against the Explorers, missing all six 3-point attempts and finishing with a season-low six points. It was just his second game under double figures in scoring.

Up and down play

The consistency just hasn’t been there with either point guard Chris Lowe or wing Anthony Gurley. Lowe’s numbers go down substantially on the road, whil
e Gurley has struggled with consistency with his 3-point shot; sometimes shying away from driving to the basket.

However, both have been key contributors, with Gurley averaging 11.5 points per game and Lowe averaging a conference-high six assists per game to go along with his scoring average of 11.3. How well the pair plays down the stretch will determine how UMass finishes in the A-10 schedule.

News and notes

Lowe needs just 17 points to become the 41st player in school history to surpass 1,000. Harris reached the mark on Dec. 20 against Hofstra ‘hellip; Lowe is also close to a landmark in the assist department, needing just 40 assists to surpass Carl Smith to become the school’s all-time leader with 634 ‘hellip; Gaffney has 31 out of the 33 dunks so far this season for the Minutemen. Bonner has taken 12 of the 19 charges ‘hellip; UMass has traveled 11,111 miles this season on road trips, spanning nine games in seven states ‘hellip; UMass is ranked 165 in the RPI and 49 in strength of schedule.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]

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