Colonials March into Amherst for Leaman Legacy Game

By Jay Asser

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Coming home and getting a week of rest might be the best medicine for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, as it looks to put two-straight conference road losses in the rearview mirror.

Standing in the way of the Minutemen getting back on track is Atlantic 10 foe George Washington, which will take the floor against UMass (13-9, 5-4 A-10) on Sunday at the Mullins Center.

After a difficult road trip in which they lost games to Saint Louis and Saint Joseph’s – teams with worse records than theirs at the time – the Minutemen were passed by Rhode Island in the conference standings, dropping to sixth.

The stretch of five games in a week was draining in the eyes of UMass coach Derek Kellogg, who was pleased to have a week off to practice and heal.

“This week’s kind of practice, where you’re not playing any games, gives you a chance to recuperate mentally and physically and I’m confident we’re going to take advantage of that and get a little bit refreshed and refocused and ready to go,” Kellogg said.

Along with the time off, the Minutemen are benefiting from being back in Amherst, especially after dealing with adverse travel conditions in the past month.

“So now we have, since school started, where the guys are on a normal schedule, where the guys are going to class, we’ve got practice time,” Kellogg said. “So I’m hoping a bit of normalcy off the court will bring us some normalcy back to us on the floor and we can get back to playing well and winning ball games.”

The Colonials (12-12, 5-5 A-10), meanwhile, are in contention for one of the eight seeds that will earn a bid to the A-10 tournament. Currently, GW sits in seventh, tied with Dayton.

The season so far has been streaky for the Colonials, with two four-game losing streaks mixed in with a stretch of eight wins in nine games.

After playing the majority of its conference schedule, UMass and Kellogg have already got a glimpse of the GW on tape.

“Because we’ve played so many conference games, when you’re scouting one team normally, you see just about every team in the league and I’ve been able to watch GW three or four times already,” Kellogg said.

Last season when the Minutemen played the Colonials, UMass couldn’t complete a comeback and lost, 66-60. Then-junior guard Anthony Gurley led the way with 16 points in the loss, while then-freshman Freddie Riley added 15 points. GW was led to victory by Lasan Kromah, who poured on a game-high 22 points and five 3-pointers.

In the matchup this time around, the Minutemen will need to be cautious of junior guard Tony Taylor, who leads the Colonials and ranks 11th in the A-10 in scoring at 14.8 points per game. Taylor is also tied for third in the conference with Duquesne’s T.J. McConnell in assists per game at 4.5.

Beyond Taylor, Kellogg realizes his team has a challenge on Sunday against the entire GW squad, which has surpassed expectations this year.

“Taylor, their guard for them, has played fantastic and they’re one of the surprise teams in the conference,” Kellogg said. “I think they were picked 10th in the regular season and they’ve surprised some people with a very good record.”

The contest will tip off at 4 p.m. on Sunday and will serve as the annual Leaman Legacy Game to honor former UMass coach Jack Leaman, who passed away in 2004 after leading teams with Julius Erving, Al Skinner and Rick Pitino.

Jay Asser can be reached at [email protected]