UMass heads to La Salle for conference opener

Minutemen 2-0 vs. Explorers last season

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Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

By Joey Aliberti, Assistant Sports Editor

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team starts its Atlantic 10 conference schedule by traveling down to Philadelphia to take the court against La Salle.

UMass (1-1) is coming off of a home-and-home split against Northeastern, winning the first game 94-79 and losing the next 78-75. The Explorers (2-3) are currently on a two-game winning streak, topping Division II Lincoln University along with Drexel.

Last season, the Minutemen defeated La Salle 77-69 at home and also won only their second road game of the season in the second meeting between the two teams (75-64).

One of the more notable observations for UMass after two games is that head coach Matt McCall and his staff did not use their depth. McCall consistently brought up the fact that one of the main strengths of the Minutemen is their deep roster, though that did not translate in their first two games.

“We talk about our depth, we say we have depth, we’ve got to use it,” McCall said. “…It is a challenge, especially this early not being able to have everybody in practice until now. So we’ve got to be better there and that’s an area that I have to do a much better job in.”

McCall specifically talked about giving TJ Weeks more minutes, who had scored eight of UMass’ last 11 points, and also pulled in six rebounds for the Minutemen in the loss on Sunday. Though Weeks is one player deserving of more minutes, McCall doesn’t plan on stopping with him.

“We have five guys averaging double figures right now, but we also have five guys probably averaging over 30 minutes a game and that needs to decrease,” McCall said. “Not because anyone’s playing poorly or playing bad, but because we’ve got to utilize our depth and have it be one of our biggest strengths.”

One player with minimal playing time this weekend was freshman wing Cairo McCrory. McCrory only saw two minutes near the end of Saturday’s win when the game was already decided.

“[McCrory] has had two really good days of practice,” McCall said. “…We need to find a way to get him some experience tomorrow. I think [McCrory] adds a different dimension to our team with his ability to rebound and his athleticism.”

Though the Explorers are 2-3, they have been able to hold their opponents to just under 40 percent shooting from the field, while also only allowing one team to score more than 63 points.

La Salle is also averaging 6.4 blocks, which is more than triple UMass’ two per game.

“The game is going to physical, we have to understand that,” McCall said. “We can’t get shell-shocked with how physical the game is. It’s a thing where if they can keep the game into the 50’s, that’s what they want to do… They got big, strong guards, and they’ll try to post their guards.”

Redshirt sophomore Jack Clark is the Explorers leading scorer averaging 9.4 points and eight rebounds. Clark stands at 6-foot-8 and listed as a guard, while 6-foot-2 senior David Beatty – who lead La Salle in scoring last season – weighs in at 200 pounds, which is heavier than any Minuteman not named Tre Mitchell, Mark Gasperini or Dyondre Dominguez.

An obvious indicator in how the first two games went for UMass was assist-to-turnover ratio. The Minutemen had 16-9 ratio in the win but had an 8-15 ratio in the loss. UMass also had 204 passes in its first game, while only having 179 in the second.

“Our unselfishness was much better on Friday,” McCall said. “With the firepower that we have on this team, that needs to be a huge focus for us. Playing the game unselfishly, …make teammates around us better, getting joy and having fun in seeing our teammates succeed.”

UMass tips off Wednesday, Dec. 16 at noon against La Salle. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN+.

Joey Aliberti can be reached via email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JosephAliberti1