Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Road woes continue for UMass men

By Jeffrey R. Larnard, Collegian Staff

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While it is expected to protect your home court, elite teams are those which win on the road.

On the season, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team is 1-7 on the road and 5-3 at home. While its one victory away from the Mullins Center (UMass’ first victory of the year was away but at a neutral site against Division II Arkansas-Monticello) was against last year’s national champion and then-No. 23 Kansas, the other seven were against lesser teams. Kansas currently boasts an RPI of 38 out of all 343 Division I teams while UMass’ (159 RPI) other road losses came to teams currently with RPIs anywhere from 83 (Wisconsin-Green Bay) to 301 (Toledo).

The losses to teams such as Toledo (4-14, 2-2 Mid-American Conference) make the upset over Kansas (14-4, 3-0 Big 12) appear as an aberration, but the Minutemen also pulled off upsets over Dayton (17-2, 3-1 A-10) and Temple (10-7, 2-1 A-10); both in the RPI Top 50, but both with UMass as the host.

From struggling to score to giving their opponents extra possessions, just about all aspects of the Minutemen’s (7-10, 2-2 A-10) game declines outside the Commonwealth. UMass has averaged 73.9 points per game in eight home games this season, but that average drops to 62.1 once it hits the road. The Minutemen have been outscored by an average of 10.3 points per game on the road as opposed to 2.6 at home.

‘We’re just going through some growing pains on the road and with closing out games,’ UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. ‘It’s doing the little things that is the biggest issue for us on the road.’

The poor scoring outputs can be attributed to the team’s poor shooting as well as their ball handling. Anthony Gurley has shot nearly 10 percent lower from 3-point range on the road, while the team’s 3-point percentage drops to 33.7 percent from 40.1 percent. UMass’ field-goal percentage also drops to 40.5 percent on the road from 44.8 percent at home.

On the road, the team averages five more turnovers per game (18 on the road compared with 13 at home) and 5.4 more turnovers than its opponents. Those turnovers result in points for the opposition which averages 21.1 points per game off UMass’ turnovers.

The Minutemen have also struggled distributing the ball, averaging 7.1 fewer assists per game on the road than their average of 17.6 at home. The general of the offense, point guard Chris Lowe, has been the biggest offender when it comes to finding the open man. While Lowe has hit double digit assists in 5-of-8 home games and had at least six in two of the other three, the senior has hit five assists just once on the road and averages 3.3 assists on the road compared to 8.6 at home.

‘I just have to be more mentally focused and start taking care of the basketball [on the road],’ Lowe said. ‘[I’ve got to start] playing through bumps and start getting back to the things I did when we were having success.’

Rebounding is one of the only skills UMass does not seem to leave behind on trips. Both Gaffney and Bonner have been more productive on the boards when the team travels; with Bonner grabbing 5.3 more rebounds per game on the road, and Gaffney pulling in 2.4 more away from the Mullins Center.

While the losses may be frustrating for Kellogg and his players, the team is optimistic.

‘We’re still learning as a team and we’re getting there. We’ve lost two really close road games in conference after struggling in non-conference on the road as well,’ Gaffney said. ‘It was good to see guys fight and continue to fight when things weren’t going our way.’

Despite the poor passes, fumbled possessions and poor shooting all being the Achilles heal on the road for UMass, the Minutemen have not been far off from winning a couple of their road games and being above .500. Their most recent road loss, a 69-64 overtime loss to Charlotte, saw the Minutemen up by six with 2 minutes, 6 seconds remaining. Back in December, UMass dropped its fifth game in a row, 57-56, on a last-second tip-in at Toledo. In both games, just one less mistake could have meant a win.

‘We just have to keep the games within striking distance,’ Kellogg said. ‘Once you figure out how to win on the road, it becomes easier.’

Jeffrey R. Larnard can be reached at [email protected].

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