UMass continues on at GW fresh off tough loss

By Stephen Sellner

Coming off its narrow, overtime defeat at last place Rhode Island on Wednesday, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team heads to the nation’s capital to take on George Washington on Saturday night.

Maria Uminski/Collegian

After running past Saint Louis last Saturday at the Mullins Center to grab a share of first place in the conference, the Minutemen (16-6, 5-3 Atlantic 10) fell to a team on the opposite end of the spectrum, the Rams, who occupy the bottom spot in the A-10.

UMass has yet to achieve the same fortune on the road as it has become so accustomed to at home. The Minutemen’s 1-3 conference road record contrasts sizably with its perfect 4-0 mark at the Mullins Center against A-10 opponents.

UMass coach Derek Kellogg explained after Wednesday’s loss that his team’s lack of experience might be an indicator of the Minutemen’s faltering away from Amherst.

“When you’re playing and starting three sophomores, a junior and one senior, sometimes those guys have to learn how to win away from home … and I think those guys are trying to take that next step,” said Kellogg in an interview with UMass Athletics.

Although it’s an arduous task to go into hostile territory and leave with a conference win, UMass will need to transfer its thunderous home play to other venues in order to keep its hopes of grabbing the A-10 regular season title alive.

It hasn’t been all gloomy for the Minutemen on the road to date. In fact, the team has played quite well in spurts, but too often has been unable to string together two effective halves as it has in the confines of the Mullins Center.

In it’s three of its four road affairs in A-10 play, UMass has been within four points at the first half buzzer. The one exception – Jan. 8 at La Salle – saw the Minutemen nearly scratch and claw its way out of a 26-point halftime hole. A 24-6 run to open the second half proved to be too little, too late, however.

With its letdown against Rhode Island (5-18, 2-6 A-10), the Minutemen plummeted from first to fifth place in the conference. Of the four teams seated higher – the Explorers, Temple, Xavier and Saint Louis – only La Salle has a losing record on the road (1-2), with slip-ups coming at formidable opponents Dayton and the Owls.

UMass next turns its attention to the Colonials (8-14, 3-5 A-10), who enter the contest in the midst of a three-game skid. Like the Minutemen, George Washington is coming off a heartbreaking defeat in the final minute of regulation to the Musketeers, 59-58.

Desperately holding onto a three-point lead with two minutes, 54 seconds to play, the Colonials watched as Xavier standout Tu Holloway went to work. The senior cashed in on a layup to cut the deficit to one and then sank a jumper to grab the lead with 30 ticks left on the clock to steal a win away from GW.

Tony Taylor netted 20 points while Nemanja Mikic had 19 in a game that George Washington lead for almost its entirety, never trailing by more than one and leading by as many as nine.

Contrary to its guests, the Colonials have not found home to be so sweet. GW has a mediocre 5-5 showing in its 10 games at the Smith Center, compared to UMass’ 11-0. Yet George Washington has stepped up when it matters most, winning its first three A-10 affairs on its home court before slipping up at the end to Xavier in its most recent home affair.

With four road games down the final stretch, a lot will be unveiled about the Minutemen and the direction the team is heading. Its next test tips off at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

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