UMass men’s basketball looking to continue win streak when it hosts Rider

Minutemen have a chance to be 5-0 for the first time since 2013-2014 season

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UMass men’s basketball looking to continue win streak when it hosts Rider

Parker Peters

Parker Peters

Parker Peters

Parker Peters

By Javier Melo, Assistant Sports Editor

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The Massachusetts men’s basketball team will host Rider on Wednesday night in its second game of the 2019 Basketball Hall of Fame Tournament.

The game will be the first of three games in five days that UMass (4-0) will play, with a weekend trip down to Connecticut to face No. 7 Virginia on Saturday and the winner of St. John’s/Arizona State on Sunday.

UMass has a chance to start a season 5-0 for the first time since the 2013-2014 season, the last time the Minutemen made the NCAA Tournament.

The Broncs (2-1) present a challenge to UMass that no team has so far: size. The Minutemen will have their hands full against the dynamic bigs that Rider can throw at them. Through three games, the Broncs are averaging 49 rebounds per game, 10 on the offensive end.

“I’m very concerned with their size and physicality,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “They’ve got three all-league players and a fourth that’s probably really, really close. When you return four guys that are averaging double figures and essentially all five starters, that’s a dangerous, dangerous basketball team.”

Rider’s size and physicality are concerns for a UMass team struggling with injuries. The Minutemen are missing guards John Buggs III, who is out for the season with an ACL injury, Kolton Miller, who is out with a fracture in his hand, and forward Sy Chatman, who is out with personal issues, all key pieces for UMass’ depth.

“I feel comfortable playing nine guys,” McCall said. “Sean [East]’s logging a lot of minutes. Luckily on Saturday, guys didn’t play an enormous amount of minutes.”

In the four wins this season, the Minutemen have scored 79-plus points in three of their four games. As a whole, UMass is shooting 49 percent from the field and 41 percent from three. The offense has been spreading the wealth, as five players (East, Tre Mitchell, TJ Weeks, Carl Pierre and Samba Diallo) are averaging double-digit points per game. UMass is also averaging 14.8 assists per game.

Rider also spreads the wealth offensively, with four players averaging double figures in points.

Against Central Connecticut State last Saturday, UMass couldn’t get their consistent scorers going, as Mitchell, Weeks and Pierre finished with a combined 23 points on 9-of-23 shooting from the field. While Sean East finished with 15 points and six assists, he was making risky plays rather than sticking to his typically calm approach. Regardless, UMass still scored its highest point tally of the season and the bench unit provided a much-needed lift.

A positive sign for the Minutemen is how stout the defense has looked. Against Northeastern, UMass shut down Jordan Roland, who came in averaging over 40 points per game and held the Huskies to a level that Harvard and Boston University couldn’t. Against CCSU, the defense allowed just 18 points in the first half and forced 24 turnovers.

“It’s both [hustle and execution],” assistant coach Tony Bergeron said. “You can hustle all you want, if you don’t have the fundamentals down and the execution, you’re dead. And then, you can be as fundamentally sound as you want, but if you don’t work very hard, you’re dead there too. It’s a combination.”

The Broncs are coming into the game on the heels of a 92-55 loss to Arizona State. In the loss, Rider committed 29 turnovers and shot just 38 percent from the field, 14 percent from three.

“A lot of teams are turning it over,” McCall said. “Some teams are turning it over more than others. We have to be aggressive with our pressure and understand that it’s a 40-minute game and we may give up a layup here, an offensive rebound in your press there, but you’ve just got to stick with it and really commit to it, and hopefully you can get a couple of easy baskets off some takeaways.”

Javier Melo can be reached by email at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @JMeloSports.