Daunting road challenge awaits UMass basketball Tuesday

By Mark Chiarelli

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(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s first true road game of the season ended in agony at Harvard Saturday with Minutemen guard Trey Davis missing a last-second 3-pointer in a 75-73 loss.

Now, UMass reboots for its second road game – and its first true away game outside of Massachusetts – only three days later against a team that hasn’t lost at home this year.

The Minutemen (5-2) will face Louisiana State University Tuesday night in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the second meeting between the two programs. UMass hosted LSU last season and won 92-90 in a game that tipped off at 11 a.m. at the Mullins Center.

According to Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg, his team has little time to worry about the Harvard misstep.

“We have to pick ourselves up and get ready for another tough road game at LSU,” Kellogg said Saturday.

The Tigers’ (4-2) roster awaiting Kellogg is significantly different from the last time the Minutemen faced the Tigers.

Gone is Johnny O’Bryant III, who scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against UMass in 28 minutes last season. O’Bryant III was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft.

LSU also no longer has point guard Anthony Hickey, who scored 16 points and tallied seven assists against the Minutemen. He was dismissed from the program in May. Guard Andre Stringer, who added 21 points against UMass, graduated last year.

Six-foot-10 sophomore forward Jarrell Martin is now the Tigers’ top offensive threat, a role that’s awaited him since he arrived at LSU last year. Martin was one of the most heralded college basketball recruits out of high school and was expected to make an impact against UMass last season, but he suffered an ankle injury in the first minute of the game and did not return.

Now healthy, Martin’s averaging 16.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.

It’s a daunting task for the Minutemen, who must quickly shake off a devastating outcome against the Crimson.

“LSU is a much better team than Harvard,” UMass guard Derrick Gordon said. “We’ve got to mentally prepare ourselves for that and just get ready for Tuesday.”

The Minutemen specifically stumbled at the free throw line against the Crimson, shooting 19-of-29 (65.5 percent). UMass missed multiple opportunities in the final stretch to hit free throws at the line and squandered chances to tie the game.

Gordon was no exception, as he went 2-of-4 at the free throw line. He lamented the missed opportunities – and the need for improvement against the Tigers – following the game, saying it was the reason UMass lost.

“I hate missing free throws,” Gordon said. “That’s something I practice every day. It’s a habit. It’s something that I do every day. I’m going to the charity stripe and I’m going 1-for-2, that’s something that shouldn’t be happening.”

Kellogg said that strong free throw shooting makes the difference in close, competitive games on the road.

“The reality of it is we have to make them,” Kellogg said. “On the road, you can’t give up 10 free points in a tight game.”

News and notes

LSU will have sophomore forward Jordan Mickey for Tuesday’s game.

The 6-foot-8 forward didn’t play in the Tigers’ 83-72 victory over McNeese State due to an ankle injury, but he’s expected to be back in the lineup against the Minutemen. Mickey is averaging 17.8 points and 10 rebounds in 37 minutes per game.

He scored 14 points and tallied 10 rebounds against UMass last season.

The Minutemen’s game against LSU is the second of four critical road games for UMass. The Minutemen also face Providence and Brigham Young University on the road on Dec. 20 and Dec. 23 respectively. Historically, these games are important for teams vying for entry into the NCAA tournament via an at-large selection.

“The reality of it is, playing those four roads games that we have against this level of competition should get us ready for our league play,” Kellogg said.

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.