Minutemen look to make it two in a row

By Herb Scribner

The last meeting between the Massachusetts men’s basketball team and Saint Joseph’s is one that many Minuteman fans would like to forget.

Maria Uminski/Collegian
Maria Uminski/Collegian

Playing at the home of the Hawks (7-19, 2-10 Atlantic 10), the Minutemen (14-11, 6-6 A-10) were stunned, 67-64, by a SJU team that had yet to win a conference game. To make matters worse for UMass, its prolific scorer, Anthony Gurley, was held to 10 points which at the time was his season-low.

However, this Wednesday’s game against the Hawks will feature a Maroon and White side that is coming off the heels of an impressive 66-60 win against rival Rhode Island.

After snapping its losing streak and back to their winning ways, the Minutemen will try to erase this season’s earlier contest with SJU.

“Honestly, I thought they played a really good game,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said on the Feb. 5 affair. “I don’t think we played so well and that can be attributed to them or just a road game on a Saturday night that [was in] a sold out arena after we had a tough travel week, so there were a lot of things in their favor.”

Whether it was the travel issues or the road game itself, the Minutemen were caught off guard by freshman Langston Galloway, who went 8-for-12 from the field, 6-for-6 from beyond the arc and was a large part of the SJU offense that dictated the game.

“We can’t let them control tempo and really can’t let them control the pace of the game,” Kellogg said.

Other than Galloway controlling the pace, the Hawks’ top scorer Carl Jones will likely take the court after missing the last game between the two sides. Jones has scored in double digits in 23 of the team’s 25 games and will be a fast-paced weapon that UMass will look to maintain.

In order to control the tempo against the Hawks on Wednesday, the Minutemen have been practicing at a faster pace, which includes getting the ball down the court in transition. UMass has struggled with scoring on the break at times this season, which is something it’s looking to correct.

According to Kellogg, increasing the tempo is only half the battle.

“You don’t want to play so crazed and wild that they’re able to get easy open shots because you’re trying to speed up the game,” Kellogg said. “So it’s kind of a middle ground on how fast you can get it but staying in the context of how we want to play.”

The Minutemen’s context of play will include Gurley, who came out of his slump against the Rams on Saturday with 16 points. Before the game at URI, Gurley scored a total of 26 points in his last three contests.

“I’ve been putting in work all season so a little two, three-game slump really isn’t going to phase me like that,” Gurley said. “I come here and do the same thing I’ve been doing. Every player goes through a slump. Kobe goes through slumps, Ray Allen goes through slumps, I’m only human.”

While the slump seems to be over, Kellogg is still looking for his top scorer to put in the effort to score down the stretch.

“I think if the game gets a little faster he’ll be able to get some more plays in transition,” Kellogg said. “And then in the half court he needs to make some of the shots that are available.”

Speaking of shooting, guard Freddie Riley was on the practice court on Tuesday after dealing with an ankle injury which he suffered against Duquesne. While nothing is certain, Kellogg seemed extremely positive on Riley competing against SJU.

“I guess it’s going to be a game-time decision, but I think he’ll play and especially if they go into their zone, he’s valuable because he can make jump shots,” Kellogg said.

With Riley on his return and freshmen Raphiael Putney and Jesse Morgan stepping up in his absence, this could be the corner that many Minutemen fans were hoping UMass would turn.

“We need this game, we need every game for the rest of the season,” Gurley said.

Herb Scribner can be reached at [email protected]