UMass basketball faces SEC opponent South Carolina in midweek battle

Minutemen looking to end three-game losing streak

Parker+Peters%2FDaily+Collegian

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

By Frederick Hanna III, Collegian Staff

It’s games like this that build a team’s character, and for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, Wednesday’s midweek contest against South Carolina will be a huge test for the young team.

The Minutemen (5-3) are coming off a three-game losing streak, due in part to a tough non-conference schedule. After losing to No. 7 Virginia and St. John’s in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament over Thanksgiving break, the Minutemen then went into a non-conference matchup against Rutgers and were dealt their worst loss of the season. UMass lost by 25 to a Rutgers team that had four players in double digits and shot 67 percent from the field.

South Carolina (5-3) is coming into the game having beat another Atlantic 10 team in George Washington on Sunday, but the Gamecocks are 0-2 on the road this season.

“We’ve got a resilient group that is young, they’re hungry, they are giving us everything they got, and we’ve had some good practices leading up to this one,” coach Matt McCall said. “This is a process and these games are great opportunities for us to grow. Coming out of Rutgers I think one of the biggest things is to simplify, and I got to keep in perspective our young team and I need to keep things at times a lot more simple.”

The Minutemen are continuing their tough stretch of games over the last couple weeks when they square off against the Gamecocks on Wednesday night. They are facing an SEC opponent for the first time this season, and for the first time since last season when they lost to Georgia on the road by nearly 20 points.

The Gamecocks are shooting just 28.3 percent from three this season and have struggled offensively throughout. They’ve relied heavily on the play of sophomore guard A.J Lawson who has averaged 15.6 points a game; South Carolina’s only other player averaging double digits in scoring is junior guard Jair Bolden who is coming off of a 12-point performance against George Washington, the school from which Bolden transferred last season. The Gamecocks are a young team like UMass ranking 325th in experience, with the Minutemen not far behind ranking 345th on the list.

For UMass, they are going to need to get the three-ball rolling against the Gamecocks after struggling behind the arc during the three-game skid. TJ Weeks shot 4-of-6 from three against Rutgers, but his wing counterpart Carl Pierre was just 2-of-8 from deep. If the Minutemen want to be successful moving forward, the duo of Weeks and Pierre need to be consistent from three.

“I’ve got to produce when I’m out there on the court and try to do the best for my team, so we can get a win,” Weeks said.

Despite losing three straight, the Minutemen are keeping their heads high.

“You got to stay positive, you’ve got to go through lows in life and lows in basketball,” Weeks said. “You got to just stay positive and we are going to get a couple wins and we are going to build off of that.”

Having Sy Chatman back in the lineup for the Minutemen is huge for a team that needs help down low in the post. The sophomore big man is back from his leave of absence due to personal reasons and will help the Minutemen offensively in a multitude of ways. Chatman is coming off a freshman season in which he averaged just 3.7 points per game, but McCall has praised the sophomore for his growth over the summer in developing his game.

“His role as far as how good he can be with his back to the basket and scoring and shooting jump hooks over guys with his athleticism, and just his effort defensively too,” McCall said. “It’s been good to have him back in the flow here and makes us deeper and we need to utilize our depth.”

The Minutemen will tip off against the Gamecocks on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center.

Frederick Hanna III can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @FrederickHIII.