Minutemen roll into rematch with Saint Joseph’s Hawks on Sat.

By Stephen Sellner

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team heads to Philadelphia on Saturday night for its second meeting with Atlantic 10-foe Saint Joseph’s.

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

UMass (18-6, 7-3 A-10) edged out the Hawks (15-10, 5-5 A-10) last time out on Jan. 14, 71-62, at the Mullins Center. Chaz Williams ignited the Minutemen with 22 points and seven assists, while Raphiael Putney added 17 and Sean Carter narrowly missed a double-double with eight points and 10 boards.

The first matchup didn’t start pretty for UMass, as SJU seized control early, jumping all over the Minutemen in the first six-and-a-half minutes of action to take a 20-3 lead thanks in large part to UMass’ dismal 1-for-11 shooting to start. But as usual with the Minutemen, they reeled off 13 unanswered points to hop back into striking distance before pulling away in the second half.

With its rough start in the previous meeting coupled with the team’s early struggles against the Bonnies, UMass coach Derek Kellogg knows his team cannot afford to have extended dry spells this time out, especially on the road.

“I think we need to use our timeouts a little more frequently and make sure the game stays in our favor,” said Kellogg. “We can’t have them go on some big runs when we’re not scoring the ball.”

Since last month’s meeting, the Hawks have played sub-.500 basketball, posting a 3-4 mark including losses to Xavier, Temple and Saint Louis. Presently, it holds the eighth seed in the conference.

Kellogg isn’t paying attention to the opposition’s recent shortcomings, and instead, stating that he feels Saint Joseph’s is a better team since the last time the two sides collided.

“They’re actually playing a little bit better than they did when they came in here. We’d like to get off to a little better start, especially on the road. We can’t get down 20-3 and then come storming back,” said Kellogg. “They’re a team that’s in the top 50 of the RPI right now, so it’s going to be a tough game on the road on a Saturday night. We have to come play hard and we just can’t let them jump on us early. I think that’s going to be one of the biggest keys to the game.”

UMass’ lapses during courses of games have produced inconsistent finishes thus far. Despite making 180-degree turns against the Bonnies and Hawks, the Minutemen couldn’t overcome a 26-point deficit at La Salle Jan. 8.

With its up-tempo, run-and-press approach to each game, it appears inevitable that each side will mount runs in its own favor at some point during the course of the game. For the most part, the Minutemen have been on the positive end of those streaks, as Williams and company get the ball out in transition and jump on teams within a matter of minutes to alter the path of the entire contest.

Kellogg doesn’t seem concerned with his team’s dry spells.

“I don’t really pay much attention to that,” he said. “The execution is probably as much when the game slows down and we don’t have our style going. I think we’re not able to make plays in the open floor where I think we’re a little better than totally in the half court. There’s a few times where I thought we could make some extra passes which would make the execution look a little better.”

If things start sour for UMass, Saint Joseph’s is more than capable of pouncing on its visitors and putting the game out of reach. The Hawks feature four players who average double-figures in scoring, led primarily by its two-headed guard attack of Carl Jones and Langston Galloway who average over 15 points per contest.

The game marks a lone road affair for the Minutemen as the team returns home afterwards to take on La Salle and Xavier next week. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Stephen Sellner can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Sellner.