UMass men’s basketball looking for first conference road win of the season against Fordham

Kolton Mitchell, Dibaji Walker and Preston Santos finding their role on the team

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Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

By Frederick Hanna III, Collegian Staff

The season is nearing its end, but for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, this last stretch of games will show and decide a lot of things moving forward, including the fact it may potentially play out of the Wednesday game for the Atlantic 10 tournament in March.

UMass (11-15, 5-8 A-10) has the ability to potentially surpass the win totals of the following past four seasons if they win out the five remaining games. It is a tall order of business, but one that the Minutemen feel they are comfortable with, and it all starts with their game Saturday against Fordham (7-18, 1-12 A-10).

“We have to bring out effort on the road,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “Pack it in our suitcase, put it on the Peter Pan bus, put it under there, and take it down I-91 to the Bronx. That’s what we have to do; to take our effort on the bus with us and find a way to win the game. Listen, I’ve won a lot of games on the road in this profession, it just so happens our last road win in the league was at one of the toughest places to play in the country, not just the league, the country. We got to pack our effort, put it on that bus, and get on I-91.”

The Minutemen are coming off a win against Saint Louis, the first win against the Billikens under the McCall era. After competing closely with the likes of Dayton and URI, the win was well cherished amongst the players.

“I had a meeting with coach earlier about the win over Saint Louis,” Kolton Mitchell said. “It was very short, but we just talked about how everyone was involved and how our energy bounced back to when we were 5-0. Everyone is having fun and it’s good to see that again.”

The Minutemen started off the season undefeated through the first five games and were certainly riding high during that stretch. Since then, UMass has experienced some ups and downs, but there have been breakout surprises who have had stellar performances when their name has been called. Two players who have developed into their own roles with the team have been K. Mitchell and Preston Santos. The two started off the season on different paths, especially for K. Mitchell, who was sidelined for the majority of the start of the season with a wrist injury. On the other hand, Santos has morphed into a role of his own becoming a force on the offensive and defense end of the floor.

K. Mitchell has seen himself splitting time with his fellow point guard Sean East. The two have complemented each other in the past month or so of basketball in which they have both been healthy. For K. Mitchell, his defensive I.Q. and ability to lock down some of the other team’s best players has been a reason why McCall trusts him out on the court. On the offensive end, East has become a specialist with the basketball in his hands, growing into a role where McCall has full trust with him making decisions. His pick-and-roll option with Tre Mitchell has become a highlighted point of emphasis over the last few games, and his ability to drive to the lane with ease makes him a scorer who can be a threat to opposing defenses.

McCall has emphasized his message of needing a third and fourth scoring threat aside from T. Mitchell and Carl Pierre throughout the season. Pierre has been cold as of late, and aside from T. Mitchell’s hot hand on the offensive end, there hasn’t been much scoring for the Minutemen. Dibaji Walker stepped into the shoes of that third scorer Tuesday against Saint Louis when he dropped 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field.

“I am taking it [after his performance Tuesday] one day at a time but I feel pretty good,” Walker said. “I feel like I’ve been in a flow the past couple games, and I just try to do what I can when my number is called. I’ve just tried to carry it with me by attacking it in practice the same way I am in the game.”

The Minutemen head to the Bronx for a 4 p.m. tip Saturday squaring off against Fordham.

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