UMass men’s basketball notches its first true road win of the season after taking down La Salle Wednesday night

First conference road win of the season for Minutemen

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McKenna Premus / Daily Collegian

By Frederick Hanna III, Assistant Sports Editor

The month of January hasn’t been the kindest to the Massachusetts men’s basketball team through its slate of conference games, but Wednesday night’s matchup against La Salle proved to be a turning point for the team who got its first true road win of the season by a score of 77-71.

The Minutemen (9-10, 2-5 Atlantic 10) have battled through injuries, players going in and out of quarantine periods along with cancelations and postponements of games. UMass found gritty ways to win games this season and that was no more evident than its victory against the Explorers (6-11, 1-6 A-10) on Wednesday.

“We are going to be in close games, we’ve been in close games pretty much all year,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “Tonight went in our favor. I love it when the officials have to tell us to sit down. As long as we are not arguing every single call with the referee’s, I love it. It shows me that everybody is into the game. That’s a standard for this program every single night.”

An earlier contest in the season at the Jersey Mike’s Classic in St. Petersburg saw UMass come out with a win over UNC Greensboro in a neutral site venue for its first official road win of the year. The Minutemen have had eight losses on the road in their 2021-2022 campaign and just this month alone have suffered three conference road losses. Two of the losses came by a margin of 10 points or less while the other one was a recent loss to Saint Louis where UMass lost by 31 points.

The theme throughout McCall’s tenure as coach at UMass has been the inconsistency in his squads being up to the challenge of winning games on the road. In his second year as head coach of the Minutemen, the team won one game on the road which came via a comeback victory against Providence led by a dominant shooting performance from former captain Carl Pierre. UMass won one game apiece on the road in McCall’s first two years, and since the 2018-2019 season the team hasn’t won more than three games on the road.

“We haven’t fared well on the road since I have been at UMass,” McCall said. “It always seems, even a couple years ago, that it’s a big topic of conversation. We came down [two years ago] and won at La Salle, won at Fordham and we found a way to win some games at the end of the season. We just focus on getting better. I am glad we got a road win, so maybe we can move past that topic.”

Wednesday night’s win came at a time in which the squad was playing without its star player in Noah Fernandes and would be very reliant upon the play of Trent Buttrick and Rich Kelly. UMass put up 77 points against the Explorers which is one short of the average of points on the season for the squad. Outside of the 91 points it put up against Saint Louis at home and before its win over La Salle, the Minutemen averaged 68 points this month.

“I think [this win] is a great opportunity to build off of,” Rich Kelly said. “The biggest thing for us is building consistency. Tonight, we had a great effort in the second half and we got to build that consistency and show up to practice tomorrow with the same approach.”

UMass has been well within reach of its opponent’s leads in the losses that it has endured this season. Out of the 10 losses on the year, the Minutemen have lost by 10 points or less six times. A four-game kid to start the month of January saw UMass get off to an 0-4 record. Three of those losses were to teams well above .500 overall.

“[Winning on the road] is a topic for [the media],” McCall said with a smile. “We just get back to work. We try to focus on the things that we can control. We did not play well at Saint Louis, we had some chances at Davidson, at Richmond as well. The whole ‘losing games on the road’, we just focus on what we can control and that is getting better.”

UMass now heads back to Amherst for a conference matchup against George Mason. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. and can be streamed on the USA Network.

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