UMass basketball looks to make it five straight wins when it travels to Saint Bonaventure on Wednesday

By Andrew Cyr

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(Cade Belisle/Daily Colleigan)

(Cade Belisle/Daily Colleigan)

The first time the Massachusetts men’s basketball team played St. Bonaventure, it was young, naïve, inexperienced and above all, lacked a true identity.

The Minutemen were still finding themselves. They didn’t have a set rotation, players didn’t completely know their own roles within the team and they weren’t playing their own brand of basketball.

“There were some positives to take away from it, but it was a game I try to forget about more because that time in the season it was more up and down and we were trying to find out our identity and who we were,” UMass center Cady Lalanne told the Massachusetts Daily Collegian after Tuesday’s practice.

“Now that we found our identity and who we were, it’s a game that we are looking forward to. We want to win.”

In the first matchup on Jan. 3, the first game of Atlantic 10 play for both teams, the Bonnies pulled away in the second half to secure a 69-55 win at Mullins Center. Now, UMass is playing its best basketball of the season – having won four straight – and a win on Wednesday could move them into second place in the A-10 standings behind Virginia Commonwealth and Rhode Island.

St. Bonaventure can thank Marcus Posley for its last two wins. Posley made a buzzer-beater to beat the No.18 Rams 73-71, while three days earlier he downed Davidson on the road with a last-second shot to secure a 62-61 win for the Bonnies.

“I think it’s about as tough a test as we can have. That’s always traditionally been a very difficult place to play because of proximity and how the fans are right on the floor and they usually sell out,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said.  “I’m looking forward to seeing how our team responds. If we can take care of the basketball and physically meet the demands of the game, I think we’ve got a pretty good chance.”

In the first matchup, Bonnies center Ndoye Youssou dominated the paint on both ends of the floor and finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds. And while Kellogg is used to preparing for Youssou, who’s a senior, he cited St. Bonaventure’s improved guard play as the X-factor.

Posley is averaging 17.1 points per game, while Dion Wright (13.4), Jaylen Adams (10.3) and Andell Cumberbatch (9.3) are threats as well.

“I actually think their guards are making them play really well right now,” Kellogg said. “The freshman Adams has done a great job of solidifying the point guard spot. Posley kind of came out of nowhere and is averaging 17 points per game. Even Cumberbatch gives them four guys that can all handle the ball and pass and move. That makes it a little harder and more difficult to pressure those guys.”

Offensively, UMass will need to spread the floor and make its outside shots if it wants to have a different result on Wednesday. St. Bonaventure loves to collapse the interior on the defensive end, and teams have proven to have success against the Bonnies when the outside shots are falling. While both Trey Davis and Donte Clark have been inconsistent from 3-point range this season, after a 23-point game (he hit five 3-pointers) against La Salle on Sunday, Clark will be looked upon to ignite the offense early and often.

Although this season has certainly taught Kellogg a newfound appreciation for patience, he truly believes that his team is hitting its stride at the right time of the season and is happy with the progress they’ve made, especially since the beginning of conference play.

“I do think at this junction of the season that we’ve improved quite a bit and I think the guys are starting to understand what it takes to win a college basketball game at the highest level,” Kellogg said. “It’s been pretty fun to be around these guys and nice to see the maturation process of a team throughout a season.”

The Minutemen and Saint Bonaventure tip off at the Reilly Center on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Andrew Cyr can be reached at [email protected], and can be followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.