UM hoops returns to Springfield, takes on Siena in Friday night showdown

By Stephen Hewitt

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Hannah Cohen/Collegian

Since its undefeated start, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team has been far from consistent.

After beginning 4-0, UMass has alternated wins and losses in its past six games, and has failed to build on any momentum since blowing out Boston College on Nov. 21.

Now, after pocketing a victory at East Carolina on Tuesday night, the Minutemen (7-3) will look to put a stop to that trend. They will try to continue their unbeaten dominance in the state of Massachusetts on Friday night as they take on Siena as part of the Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase in Springfield.

UMass currently occupies fifth-place in the Atlantic 10, and are coming off of a nail-biting victory over the Pirates. After commanding a 19-point halftime lead, the Minutemen allowed ECU to go on a 13-2 run to begin the second half and let the margin come to as close as three with minutes remaining.

But it was too little, too late for the Pirates as UMass made a few clutch plays down the stretch to preserve the lead and escape with a 63-58 victory.

The Saints (3-5) enter Friday’s matchup battling their own bout of inconsistency.

Siena began the season with a 2-0 mark before suffering five consecutive losses. However, the Saints’ spirits should be positive entering Friday, as they are coming off a thrilling come-from-behind victory over cross-town rival Albany on Monday in the annual Albany Cup.

Down 19 midway through the first half, Siena went on an 11-0 run to help it narrow the deficit to single digits by halftime. The Saints carried the momentum into the second half, starting on a 9-2 run to help them get within one. Senior Kyle Downey then converted on a tip-in with 11 minutes, three seconds remaining to take the lead and Siena never looked back as it came away with the 64-60 victory.

Contrary to the Minutemen’s offensive system, Friday’s matchup may be determined down low in the paint.
Junior O.D. Anosike, who keyed the comeback on Monday by torching Albany with a double-double of 21 points and 18 rebounds, will be a defensive challenge for the UMass frontcourt. He averages 11.4 points and 11.9 rebounds per game entering Friday’s contest.

Senior Brandon Walters will start alongside Anosike, and the Minutemen will have to keep an eye on him as well. The Seton Hall transfer – who also recorded a double-double on Monday with 11 points and 10 rebounds – averages 7.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.

While UMass’ strengths lie in the backcourt with Chaz Williams dictating its high-energy offense, the Minutemen’s frontcourt has slowly been improving, and Friday’s game against Siena should serve as a good test and an indicator of its growth.

Senior center Sean Carter will likely start and he will look to build off of his recent successes. In the last two games, he’s averaging 10.5 points and 7.5 rebounds which includes a nine-point, seven-rebound effort against ECU despite getting into foul trouble and only playing 22 minutes.

Freshman Cady Lalanne will also likely be called on to neutralize Siena’s frontcourt.

Coach Derek Kellogg has recently been impressed with his rookie’s development and ability to come off the bench and stop the opposing team’s top frontcourt threat. He recorded six points, six rebounds and four blocks in Wednesday night’s win while also containing Pirates big man Darrius Morrow.

“He did a nice job of corralling Morrow a little bit and giving Sean a little bit of a breather,” said Kellogg during Wednesday’s postgame press conference. “It’s tough for Sean because he’s at the front of the press and trapping ball screens, and then we’re asking him to cover their best player in the post. He gets a little worn down and tired throughout the game and it’s nice to have another big body in Cady to block some shots and just be big.”

Friday night’s matchup will cap off a tripleheader at the MassMutual Center. Division III schools Springfield College and Trinity College will face off at 4 p.m., AIC will take on Philadelphia University in a Division II game at 6 p.m., and UMass and Siena will conclude the day’s games with an 8 p.m. tipoff.

The Minutemen were 3-0 in the MassMutual Center last season, where they defeated New Mexico State, TCU and La Salle.
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Hewitt.