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

Matt Cross’ MCL injury adds to a common trend for UMass

Cross and Noah Fernandes remain out with no timetable
Kayla Wong/Daily Collegian (2023)

Less than five minutes into the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s game Tuesday night, Matt Cross took an awkward step and was instantly in pain on the hardwood. He was helped off the floor and headed directly into the locker room. He returned to the bench later in the second half with crutches. Martin told media after the game Cross likely suffered an MCL injury.

The Minutemen (13-13, 4-10 Atlantic 10) have an injury problem that won’t go away, starting from the beginning of December.

Noah Fernandes was leading the charge in a comeback bid against Harvard on Dec. 2 before injuring his ankle. He’s played in four of the 19 games since then, and UMass coach Frank Martin said on Feb. 4 he doesn’t expect Fernandes back for the “foreseeable future.”

Along with Fernandes — the Minutemen’s leader and go-to offensive option when healthy — Cross, Wildens Leveque, T.J. Weeks, Rahsool Diggins, RJ Luis and now Brandon Martin have all missed time. They’ve missed combined 30 games since Dec. 2. With UMass’ top two scorers out indefinitely, Martin’s rotation must shrink, and players that haven’t played as much will now play frequently.

“It creates an opportunity now for Tafara [Gapare] now to get some minutes,” Martin said. “He wants to play, well he’s going to have to play now. He’s going to have to grow up in a hurry here.”

Gapare averages 3.4 points in 11.7 minutes per game this season. His high-flying athleticism and length made him a four-star prospect coming out of New Zealand. While it’s shown itself when he’s on the floor, Martin has explained how much Gapare must learn and grow on multiple occasions, especially in terms of on-ball defense. With no more than 23 minutes played in a game this season, Gapare is primed to get real minutes at a time when the Minutemen desperately need a spark.

Martin said after the game that Brandon Martin injured his UCL in his right elbow in practice Monday. He unsuccessfully tried go through warmups Tuesday, which means UMass’ starting lineup could look a lot different in the coming games depending on the severity of Martin and Cross’ injuries.

Weeks and the Minutemen lost their fifth straight game Tuesday to Loyola Chicago, who currently sits last in A-10 standings. After Cross went down in obvious pain in the first half, UMass had no offensive identity.

“Matt’s the guy who provides the toughness on our team,” Martin said. “Without him out there I think we had guys looking around to see who was going to do it. And then we ended up with a lot of guys making a lot of excuses and a lot of complaints. I think that’s what got us in trouble there late in the first half.”

“When [Cross] went down, it was like ‘We all got to step up, especially in the physicality department and keep playing for him,'” Weeks said.

Martin went deeper into his team’s injury situation last Thursday with media, detailing how it’s affected his lineups.

“This is the third time this year that we have to reinvent ourselves as a team,” Martin said Thursday. “That’s hard to do when you have an experienced roster, it’s really complicated when you got freshman and basically two guards that play. But it’s what we have to do. It’s what we’ve been trying to do for the last seven, eight days or so, as far as reinventing how we want to play based on the personnel that’s going to be on the court.”

Whatever reinvention Martin and his coaching staff were brewing up over the past week and a half is now useless. Cross was as much of a sure thing Martin had offensively, the junior forward averaged 17.6 points in the last eight full games he played. He would’ve been a focal point of any sort of identity Martin wanted to create, which won’t be available for an an unknown period of time.

“It’s just one of those years,” Martin said Thursday. “I wish I had a magic wand that I could fix things with, but I can’t.”

UMass takes its five-game losing streak to Rhode Island on Saturday in its second matchup of the season, the first of which the Minutemen won at home 75-65. Tip off is at 2 p.m., the game can be streamed on ESPNU.

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

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    FrankFeb 15, 2023 at 11:44 pm

    Excuses and complaints have been Martin’s M.O. He talks about his players making excuses, but he’s the one setting the tone.