UMass men’s basketball hits road looking for bounce back win over UCF

By Anthony Chiusano

(Robert Rigo/ Daily Collegian)
(Robert Rigo/ Daily Collegian)

The first time the Massachusetts men’s basketball team suffered defeat this year, the Minutemen quickly rebounded with a 30-point victory over Boston University. Now coming off its second loss to Mississippi last Saturday, UMass looks for a similar bounce back performance in Orlando, Florida.

The Minutemen (5-2) face Central Florida (3-3) Tuesday night in their first road game at a non-neutral site since Nov. 17 at Harvard. According to UMass coach Derek Kellogg, the team’s two-game road trip in the state of Florida will be an important test to see how the younger players respond to playing in a true road atmosphere.

“Every trip and every little stretch is important for this team. But coming off of a loss and having two games away from home, it will be (important) to play well on the road and come away with a victory or two obviously,” Kellogg told reporters on Monday. “When you start playing higher-level teams like I mentioned going up against a team on the road that’s vastly improved quickly in Central Florida, you have to do the little things.”

After starting the year 0-2, the Knights have won three of their last four games to reach .500 for the season. They are led by sophomore guard Adonys Henriquez (11.5 points per game) and 7-foot-6 freshman center Tacko Fall (10.5 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game, 2.8 blocks per game).

“I think they are starting to find their identity now. They struggled a bit early but they have found it now,” Kellogg said. “The big kid, Tacko, is starting to get better every game so I think it’s a combination of a different things and I think they are a much better team than maybe their opening two games where they didn’t play so well.

“They have size and they have a team identity, and they have a 7-foot-6 guy who can alter the game in a lot of different ways.”

Fall was granted an academic waiver and was cleared to play shortly before UCF’s season opener. In charge of guarding Fall on Tuesday will be the tandem of Rashaan Holloway (6-foot-11), Malik Hines (6-foot-10) and Tyler Bergantino (6-foot-9).

“He’s tall and he appears thin but the kid is powerful, like 300 pounds I think. You really just have to use your body, got to try to outrun him, got to out-physical him,” said Bergantino, who pointed out the tallest guy he’s previously faced was a 7-foot-4 opponent in high school. “I think the important job for us is to be physical, make plays at the right time and get rebounds to help our guards out.

He added: “This guy, he’s just standing there and just dunking it. It’s almost comical when watching film. It’s unbelievable and I’ve never seen something like that before.”

For Bergantino, a senior from Springhill, Florida, Tuesday’s game serves as a homecoming. He said various family members will be in attendance for his first game in Florida since coming to UMass.

“I’m so thankful to be able to come back here,” Bergantino said. “I’ve been here so many times. It’s really nostalgic I guess you can say. It’s definitely a privilege and I’m really thankful for it.”

The Knights employ a 2-3 zone defense which is disguised well throughout the course of the game, according to Kellogg. The Minutemen are coming off a 74-64 loss to Ole Miss in which they struggled to attack against the Rebels’ 1-3-1 zone.

In the loss, UMass point guard Jabarie Hinds finished with one point on a second half free throw while finishing 0-of-5 from the field. He entered the game scoring a team-high 19.7 points per contest.

Hinds said Monday that the performance is behind him and that he plans to attack UCF’s zone defense with greater assertiveness and decisiveness early on.

“Last game I was being a little passive. I have to get out there and be aggressive and try to make plays earlier,” Hinds said. “I just want to get back and be aggressive. Last game I just wasn’t feeling it and had a bad game but tomorrow I’m going to get back out there and get back on track.”

Tuesday’s game starts at 7 p.m. at CFE Arena and can be viewed on ESPN3.

Anthony Chiusano can be reached at [email protected] and can be followed on Twitter @a_chiusano24.