Minutemen host Charlotte on ESPNU

By David Brinch

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The Massachusetts men’s basketball team will look to do something they have not yet done this season.

Fresh off their first victory after dropping their last five games, the Minutemen (8-12, 2-4 Atlantic 10) host Charlotte Saturday night, returning to the Mullins Center for the first time since Jan. 20 in hopes of winning their first back-to-back A-10 games of the season.

The game is slated for a 6 p.m. tipoff and will be televised on ESPNU.

“Well it’s great when your team is on TV, and the fans come out and it looks a certain way on national television,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said.

“You don’t want to have an empty arena, you need to have a student section that’s cheering and really going for your team, so that way, it will help in recruiting, just the overall image of your program, and we need the support of the students and the fans in the area to make it look a certain way for television.”

Like UMass, the 49ers (15-5, 5-1 A-10) are coming off of a big victory, downing No. 15 Temple Wednesday night, 74-64. Guard Derrio Green scored 26 points against the Owls, who were in the midst of a six-game winning streak, including a win over the Minutemen on Jan. 16, 76-64.

“For Charlotte to beat a top 15 team and do it in a sort of fashion where at times they looked like the better team is a testament to how they have been able to build and have their team where they are,” Kellogg said.

The 49ers also beat Louisville, 87-65, back on Dec. 5.

It was Green’s third game with 20 or more points against a Top 20 team this season, as Kellogg knows how dangerous he can be.

“When he gets going, they are as good as any team we’ve seen this year,” Kellogg said.

Along with Green, junior forward Shamari Spears has averaged 19.3 points and 7.7 rebounds in victories over the Owls, La Salle and Richmond this week. The Boston College transfer is seventh in the A-10, averaging 16.6 points per game, while freshman Chris Braswell is fourth in the conference in rebounds (9.1).

UMass defeated Saint Joseph’s Wednesday night, 87-80, as senior guard Ricky Harris and freshman forward Terrell Vinson combined for 39 points and 17 rebounds, while a season-high 11 different players scored for the Minutemen.

“I was impressed that we were able to withstand some of Saint Joe’s runs and really continue to play our game,” Kellogg said.

The Minutemen also were strong on the glass, outrebounding the Hawks 44-31 while shooting 47.6 percent from the field. Along with Harris and Vinson, freshman forward Freddie Riley contributed off the bench and found his shot, scoring 14 points, including going 4-for-8 from beyond the arc and 5-for-12 from the field.

Charlotte is capable of converting on free throws, leading the conference with a .743 percentage and sits right behind the Minutemen in rebounding margin with a plus 3.5.

“They get to the free-throw line more than a lot of teams attempt, which is a goal a lot of teams have,” Kellogg said.

“They jam the ball inside, those guys are big and physical, they know how to create contact, and their guards can get in the paint and shoot the ball, so they are a really well-rounded team.”

Last season, the 49ers forced overtime and outscored the Minutemen for a 69-64 road win on Jan. 21. Harris had 19 points in the game, while redshirt junior forward Anthony Gurley added 10 points.

“They’re much different, they had some injuries last year, Spears was sitting out as a transfer from Boston College, and Braswell was a prep-school guy at Hargraves with Freddie, and the main pieces they have are either new guys or guys that have improved tremendously,” Kellogg said.

The Owls, the 49ers, and Xavier are now in a three-way tie for first place in the conference with a 5-1 record.

David Brinch can be reached at [email protected]