Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s basketball prepares for last home game of the season, taking on Richmond Wednesday

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(Jong Man Kim/ Daily Collegian)

It’s no secret that Atlantic 10 conference play has not gone the way the Massachusetts men’s basketball team had planned during the 2016-17 season.

Sitting at 4-12 in the A-10 and locked into one of the bottom four seeds of the conference tournament next week, UMass (14-15, 4-12 A-10) needs something to give them hope that this season is not a lost cause.

Sunday’s win over La Salle gave the Minutemen some of the confidence the team needs this time of year and they will look to continue that as Richmond (17-11, 11-5 A-10) makes its way to Amherst for a matchup Wednesday night at Mullins Center.

The Spiders currently sit tied for third in the A-10 with Rhode Island and have won their last two games, the latter of which was a 22-point victory over Fordham.

With Richmond having consistent success this year, UMass coach Derek Kellogg views this game as somewhat of a measuring stick to see how the Minutemen will fare next week in Pittsburgh for the A-10 tournament.

“Offensively they’re as potent as anybody. They’re actually a fun team to watch when you’re not playing against them,” Kellogg said. “It will be a good measuring stick just like going to (St. Bonaventure) on Saturday to see if we can go and beat these teams five days in a row over an elongated period of time.”

The Spiders are led by a powerful senior duo of forward/center T.J. Cline and guard ShawnDre’ Jones. Cline leads the team with 18.9 points per game, 8.2 rebounds per game and 5.5 assists per game. Jones is second on the team with 16.9 ppg and leads the team in 3-point field goal percentage (36.9 percent).

Kellogg understands the importance of slowing that duo down on Wednesday.

“I think the one and the five are two of your more important positions on the floor and I think them having two seniors in those spots gives them that stability to fill the other guys around them,” Kellogg said.

An advantage that UMass will look to exploit in Wednesday’s game is its size advantage over Richmond. The Spiders often elect to go with a four-guard lineup and their tallest player is Cline at 6-foot-9. The Minutemen, on the other hand, normally play a more conventional lineup with two big men and three wing players. Rashaan Holloway, in particular, will be someone to keep an eye on based on his size advantage over every Richmond player.

“I think [Holloway’s] sheer size on the offensive end should allow him to be the biggest guy on the floor and the biggest guy in the paint,” Kellogg said. “I’m hoping he can take advantage of his size and good hands and his ability to create space down there. He’s done it in some games and some games he hasn’t. He’s just got to put his mind that he’s going to be an all the time, every game guy.”

“Every night we want to come in with the big team we have. We want to be dominant on the inside as far as scoring in the paint, securing rebounds. That’ll be a task for tomorrow,” forward Malik Hines added on the importance of post play against the Spiders.

Richmond coach Chris Mooney is aware of this size difference and hopes to negate that advantage in Wednesday’s matchup.

“It definitely concerns me. They usually always play with two big guys and even their guards have tremendous length and size across the court,” Mooney said in his weekly media teleconference Monday. “It’s always something we’re trying to limit the disadvantage for us defensively and hopefully highlight the advantage for us offensively.”

Kellogg decided to make a lineup change ahead of Sunday’s matchup with the Explorers, but he is not sticking to any particular lineup moving forward. One of the players who got the start Sunday was Zach Lewis, who went for a career-high 37 points against La Salle. Lewis hopes to continue that play going into the game with the Spiders.

“I just have to keep being aggressive. They way I was scoring was really within the offense, so as long as I can keep being aggressive, doing the right things and definitely playing defense, I think I’ll be alright,” Lewis said.

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center.

Adam Aucoin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @aaucoin34.

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