UMass will look to get back on track with matchup against UMass Lowell Wednesday night

Michael Steadman cleared to play; Noah Fernandes a game-time decision

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McKenna Premus/Daily Collegian

By Pedro Gray Soares, Collegian Staff

Returning to Amherst after a road trip that ended with two losses in three games, it’s vital for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team to get back on track against a challenging UMass Lowell squad.

UMass (3-3) has struggled to find consistency in its play through its first six games, and a lot of that is due to the team trying to find its defensive identity. The Minutemen’s offensive numbers have been strong start the season but on the defensive end of the floor they have given up at least 88 points or more four times.

“We have a chance to be a really good team,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “I just think that if we can figure out the defensive side of the ball, we can win a lot of basketball games. The message is we have to defend, we have to rebound, we have to be more aggressive, we have to attack more and be less on our heels.”

With Fernandes potentially out, UMass will rely on its guard play of Rich Kelly. The graduate student averages 11.5 points and four assists per game for the Minutemen this year along. Rich Kelly has four years of experience under his belt and can bring some knowledge on how his team can stay consistent.

“I think it’s important not to get too high or too low, and you can’t be outcome-driven,” Rich Kelly said. “Win or lose, you just have to look at it from a net perspective and take the good and learn from the bad.”

According to McCall, forward Michael Steadman is fully cleared to play against the River Hawks. Having him back from injury against a physical UMass Lowell (4-1) team that approaches offense by committee is a massive upgrade. UMass has been struggling on the court with much of what Steadman can provide.

Steadman adds physicality and a scoring presence up front, he’s able to guard pick-and-rolls on defense and he can alter shots with his length and size.

“I just got to match [UMass Lowell’s] intensity,” Steadman said. “They like to rebound and pretty much punk other teams so I got to match their intensity, box out, try to get as many rebounds as I can and be a physical presence.”

The River Hawks are coming into the matchup with an impressive resume. Their only loss was to Oklahoma State and they’ve already beaten two Atlantic 10 teams, including 2019 A-10 champions Dayton on the road. Their offense is balanced, with six players scoring over seven points per game.

One of the biggest threats to the Minutemen will be forward Max Brooks, who leads the River Hawks in scoring, rebounding and blocks while averaging over 20 minutes a game. He is shooting at a clip of 62.5 percent from the field, but is struggling from the free throw line. Brooks has gone 5-of-11 from the line and hasn’t attempted a 3-point shot yet.

In the finale of the Jersey Mike’s Classic against Ball State, the Minutemen had five players reach double digits in scoring including Buttrick, C.J. Kelly and T.J. Weeks all with 19 points. Buttrick, UMass’ leading scorer, will look to continue his streak of scoring in double-digits every game so far this season. Weeks seemed to find his groove while coming off the bench in the past two games. His rebounding and defending have been solid.

C.J. Kelly will to continue to play a vital role in the offense. He currently sits as the third leading scorer for UMass with 12.6 points per game.

A deciding factor against Ball State was perimeter defense, and McCall has expressed concern recently. The Minutemen’s opponents in the three-game tournament shot a combined 51.9 percent from three.

“Conditional winning is when it’s going well for ‘me’,” McCall said. “Well, what if you’re not playing well and you win? We’ve got to be unconditional winners. We can’t put our focus on just ‘myself’.”

UMass squares off against the River Hawks Wednesday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center.

Pedro Gray Soares can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @P_GraySoares.