Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s basketball start conference slate against Richmond

Minutemen’s first two conference games were postponed
McKenna Premus / Daily Collegian

For the first time in over two weeks, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team will play a game, which will also be its first interconference game of the season. It was supposed to be Saint Louis on Dec. 30, then Fordham on Jan. 2. As of Tuesday night, its first game will come at Richmond on Wednesday, Jan. 5.

None of the two conference matchups and the one non-conference game against NJIT were cancelled or postponed because of UMass (7-5). Minutemen head coach Matt McCall told media Tuesday that Dibaji Walker (knee) and Cairo McCrory (back) are done for the season, but other than those two the health of the team has been “fine.”

Players came back the day after Christmas to start prepping for Saint Louis and found out the 29th that the game would be postponed. On New Year’s Day, the plan was to practice and then head to Fordham for their game the next day. A phone call came in “literally three minutes” before practice telling McCall and the rest of his team that the game would be postponed.

The players have kept a positive outlook regardless of the situation according to McCall. After finding out the Fordham game was postponed, players wanted to scrimmage, rather than go home and start preparing for the next opponent.

The next opponent is one that McCall has not fared well against since becoming UMass’ head coach. He is 1-3 against the Spiders (9-6, 0-2 Atlantic 10), and has been outscored by 55 points combined in the four games.

Jacob Gilyard and Grant Golden were sophomores the first time McCall took on Richmond and are now in their sixth-year seniors. The point guard and center have led this team for as long as McCall has led his. Gilyard is averaging a nation’s-best 3.5 steals per game along with 10.1 points while Golden averages 15.9 points and 6.3 rebounds this season.

“I’ll be glad to line up against Richmond and not see Grant Golden over there,” McCall said. “Holy cow him and Gilyard. We’ve played against those two a lot of times in my five-year tenure here at UMass.”

Tyler Burton has taken over as the lead scorer and rebounder in his junior season with the Spiders. Burton scored 24 points in the loss to Saint Louis, the second highest mark the Billikens have allowed this season. It’s more impressive when you consider an early schedule for Saint Louis that included multiple prospects that will potentially be selected in the top five of this year’s NBA Draft.

Road struggles is something McCall has battled to overcome in his time as head coach of the Minutemen, he is currently 8-36 in away games in his five years and is 1-5 in games away from the Mullins Center this season. Something else McCall has noted is that his team loses more when they pass the ball less on offense.

“We all know that we’ve struggled at times this year on the road,” McCall said. “Well it’s a direct correlation to the number of times we’ve passed the ball on the road, compared to the times we’ve passed the ball at home. It’s not even close. I think its 180-plus at home and it’s down near the 150s on the road, that’s why we’ve only won one game away from this arena.”

“There’s a little bit of adversity in a game, maybe the crowds into it whatever it may be… ‘Don’t go try to do it off one pick and roll by yourself.’”

McCall also cited that there are currently four players on UMass (Noah Fernandes, Rich Kelly, C.J. Kelly and Greg Jones) that shoot over 40 percent from the 3-point line and they “should never force a shot at any point in time coming down the floor.”

Tip-off is at 7p.m. in Richmond and the game can be streamed on ESPN+.

Joey Aliberti can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @JosephAliberti1.

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