Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s basketball reignites rivalry with trip to Rhode Island Thursday

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Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

With the final turn of the calendar in the college basketball regular season, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team now enters the home stretch of its inconsistent season looking to improve its position and gain momentum with two games left before the Atlantic 10 tournament begins on March 9.

For UMass guard Jabarie Hinds, one of four seniors this year, the month known for conference tournament play and “March Madness” presents one final opportunity to make a run in the postseason.

“March is crazy, you know,” Hinds said. “I still can’t believe (this is my last March) yet, it’s going to hit me soon. But it’s crazy.”

But before the Minutemen (12-16, 5-11 A-10) head to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the conference tournament next week, UMass will wrap up its regular season with two games in three days, starting with Thursday’s road matchup with rival Rhode Island (16-13, 8-8 A-10).

In the team’s first head-to-head matchup on Feb. 2, the Minutemen escaped with a 61-56 victory in overtime at Mullins Center. The Rams were without sophomore guard Jarvis Garrett (13.2 points per game) and junior forward Kuran Iverson (9.6) in the loss due to injuries.

While Iverson and Garrett are both back for URI, the Rams took another hit when third-leading scorer Hassan Martin went down with a season-ending knee injury against Davidson on Feb. 23.

UMass coach Derek Kellogg said that while the absence of Martin is significant within URI’s offensive game plan, the Minutemen are cognizant of their opponent’s reinsertion of Garrett.

“Hassan Martin is great, but Garrett has really been the guy to make them go in the games I’ve seen as far as being the leader and the guy that can really solidify their defense and offense,” Kellogg said.

Kellogg added that Garrett’s ball-handling skills and natural ability at point guard makes it difficult for opponents to produce turnovers, which was something that helped catalyze UMass’ offense in overtime of its victory over the Rams.

Hinds said playing lockdown defense and causing turnovers will still be a major focus for the Minutemen for the remainder of the season, starting Thursday.

“(Rhode Island) is a very good defensive team, very active so we’re going to have to go in there and make the right plays and stay together as a team,” Hinds said. “It’s going to be a little different now because we’re going to be on the road this time so we’re going to have to bring the same energy from the first game.”

Holloway, Berger bringing energy

Although UMass lost on a heartbreaking called-off shot at the buzzer last Saturday at St. Bonaventure, two players’ impacts particularly stood out to Kellogg following the game.

Seth Berger (eight points) and Rashaan Holloway (10 points, four rebounds) each rebounded from periods of individual struggles to bring energy off the bench and keep the Minutemen within the reach of the Bonnies last weekend.

Berger suffered a concussion against Virginia Commonwealth Feb. 11 and did not play in the following game against Duquesne. He then returned and combined for two points over UMass’ following three games before the matchup against St. Bonaventure.

On Saturday, Berger finished 3-of-4 from the field and was 2-of-3 on 3-point attempts.

“He’s been doing some good stuff on the defensive end and on the boards, playing really hard,” Kellogg said. “It was good to see some productivity on the offensive end to make them have to play him and keep the defense honest.”

Berger said he wasn’t shocked by how long it took for him to return to form but added he was frustrated by his recent “slump.”

“(I was) not surprised, I was more frustrated,” Berger said. “Just being hesitant with everything, it was frustrating and kind of carried over.”

As for Holloway, who reached double figures for the first time since Dec. 16, the freshman center said he’s come into this week’s practices with more confidence and a belief that he can be a reliable force in the post heading into tournament play.

“Everybody was just almost just shocked to see me come out and play like that,” Holloway said. “I felt like it was always there, I just have to stay focused and keep pushing and grinding. My team, now they have a big man that has confidence. I think it’ll help us in the tournament.”

Holloway added it will be important for him and Berger to continue bringing energy and quality minutes off the bench in order for UMass to be successful to end the season.

“Seth, he’s scary. He can lock you up but he can score too. When he’s playing and hustling and doing what Seth does, bringing energy, we can win any game,” Holloway said. “I feel like at the end of this year and into next year, me and Seth, that’s going to be a combination to see. It’s going to be good to see us work together.”

Thursday’s tip off with the Rams is slated for a 7 p.m. start.

Anthony Chiusano can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @a_ chiusano24.

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