Minutemen look for third consecutive win

By Adam Miller

While the top half of the Atlantic 10 has been battling for a potential NCAA Tournament berth, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team was worrying about just making the one for its own conference.

The Minutemen (10-15, 4-7 A-10) had one win between Jan. 10 and Feb. 6 and were in danger of missing the A-10 Tournament entirely. A two-game winning streak, however, has put UMass in an eighth-place tie with Duquesne and back in contention.

The Minutemen will now look to make it three-straight tonight against George Washington, after wins against the Dukes and Saint Joseph’s. The Colonials are also coming off of a 78-53 win over Fordham, but are also facing struggles similar to UMass.

GW (13-10, 3-7 A-10) lost three close games by an average margin of 5.7 points per game prior to its trip to the Bronx.

Although their record would indicate otherwise, the Colonials are still a competitive team in the A-10. They lost to Xavier, Richmond and Rhode Island by single-digits and defeated Saint Louis in overtime.

Although neither team is in contention for an NCAA berth, the bottom half of the conference is in a near dead-lock trying to avoid joining the winless Rams at the bottom for 13th place. A win would give either team some breathing room.

GW has become one of the more defensive-minded teams in the A-10, allowing 66.9 points per game and is at the top of the league in steals per game (8.4). The last time the Minutemen played as strong of a defense as the Colonials was on Jan. 16 against Temple, where they finished with 64 points in the loss.

Freshman Lasan Kromah has been the biggest contributor on defense with an average of two steals, and is second behind Duquesne’s Damian Saunders, who has 2.8.

If UMass can take care of the basketball and keep it away from Kromah, it should have little trouble being comfortable with the offense. Despite playing as many as three freshmen at a time, senior Ricky Harris believes that the team is starting to come together and that is mainly because the younger players understand their roles.

“When you’re out there as a freshman coming into college, everyone wants to come in and be Michael Beasley and Kevin Durant and it’s been kind of hard for those guys, but now everyone’s starting to understand their roles,” Harris said of the freshmen’s improved play following Sunday’s win against the Hawks.

Recently, Terrell Vinson, Freddie Riley and Javorn Farrell have all embraced different roles on the team, and are starting to play on a more consistent basis.

Vinson is starting to become a more consistent rebounder, averaging 5.5 rebounds per game. Riley, who from the first day hasn’t been shy about his confidence in his 3-point shot, is now the team’s second-best shooter from beyond the arc (33.8 percent).

Farrell has been equally as important on defense, filling in for sophomore David Gibbs, who went down on Feb. 2 with a broken foot. His contributions as of late have helped the Minutemen put together some long runs defensively that allow the offense to get more scoring opportunities.

The most recent example was the 11-minute stand UMass had against SJU that allowed the offense to go on a 16-0 run. Tonight, coach Derek Kellogg is going to need his freshmen to continue that momentum against a team that gives even the league’s toughest opponents a hard test.

Adam Miller can be reached at [email protected]