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’ flawed second half defense against La Salle leads to fourth straight loss

The Minutemen fall to La Salle 86-72 on the road
Dylan Nguyễn/Daily Collegian (2023)

A common theme of poor second half defense by the Massachusetts men’s basketball team continued Saturday afternoon at La Salle. UMass fell to the Explorers 86-72 on the road, taking its fourth straight loss.

“Same movie we’ve been watching here for the last four games,” Minuteman coach Frank Martin said. “It’s been our Achilles’ heel since we got back from Christmas. We don’t defend very well, and when we get in difficult moments of the game, we just quit playing. We don’t fight through adversity.”

UMass (13-12, 4-9 Atlantic 10) led 35-33 at the half, holding up fine defensively and even leading by nine at one point. La Salle (12-13, 6-6 A-10) took 32 field goal attempts in the first half and 28 in the second. It scored 33 points in the first half and 53 in the second half. The Minutemen allowed the Explorers to shoot 68 percent from the field (19-28) and 63 percent from three (7-11) in the final 20 minutes.

“We don’t guard,” Martin said. “I played every defense that we practiced today … Everyone loves statistics and fantasy points and all that crap and all that garbage. All that’s irrelevant to winning. Winning starts with team character. Winning comes with personality, leadership and you better defend. If you don’t defend you don’t got no chance to win, and that’s why we don’t win on the road.”

“There’s only so much strategy you can use if the person guarding the basketball doesn’t take ownership of guarding the basketball.”

Josh Nickelberry continued his hot streak, helping the Explorers to their fourth straight win. All 21 of the senior’s points came from 3-pointers, finishing 7-of-11 from beyond the arc. Over the past five games, Nickelberry averages 16.6 points and 4.2 made threes a game.

Martin called his team’s help defense “embarrassing” earlier this week after losing to Fordham, and it didn’t do itself favors Saturday. Whether it was in man, 2-3 zone or anything else, multiple defenders closed in whenever a La Salle player drove to the paint. That left multiple players open on the perimeter, giving the Explorers ample amounts of room for comfortable 3-point attempts.

“I’ve never been around anything like this before,” Martin said. “First time I’m ever around a team that has those kind of moments where we just fold. And our biggest problem is we’re really bad defensively, like really bad. Individually and collectively.”

RJ Luis returned to the lineup after missing three games due to a concussion and a broken nose. He certainly helped — adding 10 points in 15 minutes — but not enough for UMass to keep the game close. Martin also acknowledged that Luis is a freshman, and he hadn’t practiced for 10 days before practicing yesterday.

“I thought [Luis] was really, really bad defensively,” Martin said. “I mean, he’s a talented young man, so you put the ball in hands in the middle of the floor he’s going to figure out a way to score. I probably shouldn’t have played him today, I probably should’ve waited until Tuesday.”

Noah Fernandes and Rahsool Diggins remain out with ankle injuries, resulting in T.J. Weeks playing 38 minutes with Keon Thompson in foul trouble. He and Matt Cross combined for 31 points, both of which played nearly the entire game.

“Other people have had their players in practice every day, so their team has gotten better, we haven’t,” Martin said. “That’s not an excuse, that’s a reality. So we’re just playing with scotch tape right now trying to stop the bleeding everywhere we can and that never works.”

Walk-ons Jackson Cronin and Ryan Marcus get extensive practice time with the injuries at guard. While they put in a lot of effort trying to give Thompson good looks, they can only do so much in terms of preparing him for A-10 guards. When Weeks started playing point guard, that left a gap at the two spot in practice when Luis remained out.

The constant injuries Martin and his team are dealing with obviously hurt, but the defensive issues go beyond those struggles.

The Minutemen are back home Tuesday against the one team that is below them in the standings in Loyola Chicago. Tip off is at 7 p.m. and will be aired on ESPN+.

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

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Massachusetts Daily Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *