Minutemen head to Fordham for final regular season game

By Jay Asser

Maria Uminski/Collegian

As the Massachusetts men’s basketball team plays its final game of the regular season, it will be in control of its own postseason fate.

With a win at Fordham on Saturday, the Minutemen (15-13, 7-8 Atlantic 10) can secure a home game at the Mullins Center for the first round of the A-10 tournament.

However, following a heartbreaking loss to Temple on Wednesday, UMass is presented with a potential trap game against a Rams team which is playing on Senior Night. More so, Fordham (6-21, 0-15 A-10) is looking to salvage a disaster of a season which includes a current 17-game losing streak and zero wins in conference play.

“Anytime we’re on the road, I think it’s going to be a tough game, especially for Senior Night and honestly a team that hasn’t won in the conference this year, I’m sure they’re going to give it one last swipe to see if they can end the season on a positive note,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg.

While the embarrassment of affording Fordham its only A-10 win of the season is daunting, the Minutemen are focused on their own problems.

“I think just that we have the fate of our season in our own hands is probably more important than worrying about what Fordham’s record is and where they are,” said Kellogg. “If we win, I guess we’re going to get a home game in the tournament so I think that should be motivation enough.”

Though it may seem unlikely for UMass to slip up against the lowly Rams, it’s not out of the question. The Minutemen have already dropped games this year to teams in the bottom half of the conference standings.

After claiming back-to-back wins against St. Bonaventure (on the road) and Rhode Island, UMass went on the road for two games which the Minutemen seemed more than capable of winning.

Nevertheless, a difficult offensive night resulted in a 69-53 loss to Saint Louis on Feb. 2 before UMass fell 67-64 to Saint Joseph’s three days later. At the time, the Billikens were 7-13 and 3-5 in the A-10, while the Hawks’ victory marked their first conference win in nine chances.

While the Minutemen may have taken those opponents for granted, they’re not thinking that way against Fordham, especially with the implications of a win.

“I think we’re going to come out with a lot of energy, a lot of intensity,” said senior guard Anthony Gurley. “We know the magnitude of this game. I think we’re going to come out with ultimate focus and be ready to play.”

The Rams, despite suffering 17 straight losses, did have some success in their out-of-conference schedule, going 6-5, including a four-game winning streak, before entering A-10 play.

Since then, however, Fordham has been in a tailspin, dropping 12 contests by double figures or more. In the conference, the Rams sit near the bottom in nearly every team statistical category.

UMass will focus its attention on sophomore Chris Gaston, who leads Fordham with 15.8 points per game (good for ninth in the A-10) and a conference-leading 11.2 rebounds per game.

With the Rams out of contention for the A-10 tournament, they’ll have nothing to lose on Saturday, something which Gurley recognizes as he’ll look for his team to put away Fordham early.

“You let a team like that hang around, get confidence, stick around throughout the game, they’re going to make a run, especially on Senior Night and in their own place,” said Gurley.

The game will tip-off at 1 p.m. on Saturday at the Rose Hill Gym in Bronx, N.Y.

Jay Asser can be reached at [email protected]