UMass men’s basketball searches for first conference win against St. Bonaventure

Minutemen 0-5 in Atlantic 10

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Maxwell Zaleski/Collegian

By Thomas Johnston, Assistant Sports Editor

It hasn’t been the start to conference play the Massachusetts men’s basketball team envisioned.

After an up-and-down non-conference slate, the Minutemen (7-11, 0-5 Atlantic 10) have yet to find the win column in conference play. While the record doesn’t show it, UMass has at least kept games close, falling by less than 10 points in four of the games.

Two of those five losses came against the current two top teams in the A-10 (Saint Louis and George Mason), and two others came against teams tied for third in the conference (Virginia Commonwealth and Dayton).

With St. Bonaventure coming to Amherst on Wednesday, the Minutemen will look to once again get in their groove and get their first conference victory.

“When our offense isn’t clicking, it’s going to be hard for us,” forward Jonathan Laurent said. “We’ve definitely stepped up our defense. It’s just little things, fouling too much, letting teams shoot more free throws than us. We’re one defensive assignment away from a stop in late games. It’s all the little things. We just need to conquer those, whatever they may be, and address them and we’ll be perfectly fine.”

The Bonnies (6-12, 2-3 A-10) look far different from the team they had a year ago that reached the NCAA tournament. Jaylen Adams, the co-Atlantic 10 player of the year, and Matt Mobley, who was first team All-Atlantic 10, graduated. The losses were substantial, as St. Bonaventure lost their two best players and starting backcourt.

Even with the departures, UMass coach Matt McCall sees the Bonnies running a similar style of offense that they ran a year ago. In the backcourt, freshman Kyle Lofton has stepped in and run the point, leading St. Bonaventure in minutes per game and averaging 13.3 points per game.

“Not much,” McCall said when asked how much their offense has changed. “I have the upmost respect for [St. Bonaventure coach] Mark Schmidt. What he does, the style of play, how they do things, how he recruits. We were right there with Kyle Lofton, it came down to us and St. Bonaventure. Terrific player, has great feel, great size for a point guard. Makes the right play, always trying to set his teammates up.”

St. Bonaventure’s go-to guy on the offensive end is Courtney Stockard. The senior was an integral part of the Bonnies’ tournament team a year ago, and is leading the team in scoring with 17.3 points per game. Fellow senior LaDarien Griffin has only played in eight games, but has been a key cog on offense, putting up 12.3 points per game.

If the Minutemen want to come away victorious Wednesday, that will involve getting Luwane Pipkins going on the offensive end. In his last two games, Pipkins has struggled to put the ball through the net, going a combined 6-for-27 from the floor.

McCall feels it isn’t for a lack of getting open looks, and knows that his leading scorer will turn things around and find the bottom of the rim sooner rather than later.

“Sometimes you just need to see a few go in,” McCall said. “Before the VCU game I showed [Pipkins] all of his makes last year against VCU. Luwane is so competitive, at times you can see him trying to will it in. He’s one of the best guards in this league and he needs to play with that level of swagger and competitiveness. He’s going to compete at a high level and the ball’s going to go into the net.”

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center.

Thomas Johnston can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @TJ__Johnston.