Minutemen search for 3rd-straight against Explorers

By Jay Asser

Michael Wood/Collegian

With postseason implications involved in every game from here on out, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team will go for its third-straight win against La Salle on the road Sunday.

UMass (15-11, 7-6 Atlantic 10) is currently in a three-way tie with Dayton and St. Bonaventure in the conference standings. After claiming back-to-back victories against Rhode Island and Saint Joseph’s, the Minutemen have pulled themselves over .500 in A-10 play and in position for a postseason run.

Nevertheless, UMass coach Derek Kellogg feels more progress needs to be made if his team is planning on making any noise outside of the regular season.

“I’m not really satisfied with it,” Kellogg said after Wednesday’s win over the Hawks. “I still think we can do some more things. We have three games left in the regular season, hopefully a tournament game or two or however many we can go with.”

In the 69-51 victory on Wednesday at the Mullins Center, the Minutemen played well on the defensive end, limiting the Hawks to 15 points in the first half and 30.8 percent shooting from the field for the game.

Guard Anthony Gurley led the charge, scoring 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting, breaking the 20-point mark for the first time since Jan. 30. The win not only gave UMass back-to-back wins for the first time since January, but it assured a winning season, the first in Kellogg’s three-year stint.

That accomplishment, while showing the progress of the Minutemen under Kellogg, is no cause for celebration in the eyes of Gurley.

“It definitely feels good to have more wins than we did last year, but coming into the season, we didn’t tip our hat or hold our hat on, we were going to have 15 wins,” Gurley said after the game. “We’re not satisfied yet.”

The Explorers, meanwhile, enter Wednesday’s matchup in the bottom third of the A-10 with a 4-9 conference record and a 12-16 overall record.

Following a stretch of three-straight victories against A-10 foes, including a 91-86 win in double overtime against Charlotte, La Salle has dropped five of its last six contests.

In its latest loss, the Explorers were dominated by No. 25 Xavier, which had six players score double figures in a 100-62 victory. La Salle seemed to fare no better than UMass did earlier this season, when the Minutemen dropped their matchup with the Musketeers, 79-50, on Jan. 12.

The last game between UMass and the Explorers resulted in a tightly-contested battle, which the Minutemen won by a slim margin, 74-71, at the MassMutual Center on Jan. 15. UMass received double figures scoring from a quartet of players, including Gurley (20 points), center Sean Carter (15), forward Terrell Vinson (11) and guard Javorn Farrell (13).

After two missed free throws from Farrell with 22 seconds remaining in the contest, the Explorers’ Ruben Guillandeaux misfired on a potential game-tying 3-pointer as the Minutemen escaped with the victory.

That win, however, came early in the conference schedule, before UMass went on a four-game losing streak and had its struggles. Kellogg though, feels that his team might be better off now after facing that adversity.

“I don’t think the guys want the season to end and that’s the most important thing,” Kellogg said. “There are teams out there that they’re just ready to call it a year and this team, having that little kind of stretch where we didn’t play so well, might not have been the worst thing because you fight your way out of it and the guys responded.”

The contest will tip-off at 2 p.m. on Sunday at the Tom Gola Arena in Philadelphia, Pa.

Jay Asser can be reached at [email protected]