Antwan Space ready to build off performance against George Mason as UMass men’s basketball enters final stretch of regular season

By Andrew Cyr

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Daniel Maldonado/Daily Collegian)

(Daniel Maldonado/Daily Collegian)

Antwan Spaces’ time with the Massachusetts men’s basketball team has been a roller coaster of a journey that not too many people could have seen coming.

After missing the first 10 games of the regular season due to what the athletic department deemed as personal reasons, Space has played in UMass’ (12-14, 5-9 Atlantic 10) last 16 games after making his debut Dec. 21 in a 90-66 loss against at the time No. 10 Providence.

Space has started the Minutemen’s last eight games and is averaging 7.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game over the course of the season. His first start, coincidently enough with a rematch set for Wednesday, came in their first meeting against Saint Joseph’s, a 78-70 loss on Jan. 27 in Philadelphia.

Although it’s been less than a calendar month since making his debut in the starting lineup, Space feels like his game has improved during that stretch.

“First off, I feel like I’m in better shape. I feel like I have a better feel for the court. Just watching the film from last game, and we watched film on the St. Joe’s game; I was embarrassed on the defensive end. This game coming up, I’m definitely trying to focus and lock in on the defensive end. Whatever happens on offense I think we’ll be fine,” Space said at Monday’s weekly radio show.

Against George Mason Sunday evening, he had one of his best offensive performances of the season, scoring 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting. Space did most of his damage isolated in the post, using a series of post moves – mainly a spin move – to finish over the Patriots defenders.

“I thought he did a great job, he’s not settling. We talked about it. He knows, that one-legged Kobe Bryant fadeaway. Hopefully we won’t see that the rest of the year,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said following Sunday’s win.

Kellogg added: “He gave us a good presence in the mid-post, driving to the rim where he gave us some good buckets. And I like that he went 2-for-2 from the free throw line. He could probably up his rebound total just a tad, but he gave us some of the stuff that I was hopeful he could bring.”

Space finished Sunday’s game with zero rebounds, which that, along with defense, has been the biggest inconsistences from him this year. The 6-foot-9 forward has just two games this season where he grabbed double-digit rebounds: 10 in a 86-75 loss against Saint Louis Jan. 23 and 17 – including 17 points – in an overtime win against Duquesne Feb. 14.

But Sunday’s game showed glimpses of what the Minutemen are going to need out of Space if they want to have a shot of going on a run at Barclay’s Center for the A-10 tournament in March. UMass’ play inside has been arguably its biggest weakness this season, as its guards Trey Davis, Donte Clark and Jabarie Hinds have been relied upon to do the majority of the scoring.

Space knows the Minutemen are going to need performances like he had against the Patriots and Dukes to be successful the rest of the way this season.

“Stay aggressive. I need to listen to my teammates and to my coaches. They’ve always been in my ear saying, ‘You can attack the basket and get to the basket.’ And you want to do that just by listening to them. You want to use that as a fuel and to stay aggressive,” Space said when asked about his biggest focal point for the remainder of the season.

“More importantly, I need to put more of my attention, focus and energy into the defensive end and rebounding and things like that. If we do that we’ll be fine.”

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