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

Aliberti: UMass’ lack of leadership ends in embarrassing A-10 Tournament exit

Minutemen fall 71-38 to Spiders in the first round of the conference tournament
Chris Tucci / UMass Athletics

The Atlantic 10 Tournament started with one of the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s worst performances in a conference game, and one if its worst performances in recent history. Richmond defeated the Minutemen 71-38 Tuesday afternoon, with UMass’ offense looking treacherous for the entire 40 minutes.

Early in the second half, The Minutemen’s (15-16, 6-12 A-10) bench was clearly deflated. From Frank Martin to his assistants and to every single player, hope was far gone. Blank stares, hands covering faces and a look of sadness overtook UMass as the gap grew wider and wider.

There was always some optimism from the Minutemen that things would get better. Noah Fernandes injured his ankle in the beginning of December, but there was hope he’d return and UMass would continue its winning ways.

In reality, that wasn’t happening.

The 9-3 non-conference record gave hope that Martin — even without his star point guard — could somehow stay afloat in a year when the Atlantic 10 isn’t as strong as usual. But the current makeup of the team lacks a true leader.

“When things get difficult with our team, we become a very quiet, lack-of-passion team,” Martin said. “And that’s because we don’t know how to manage that dynamic yet.”

On-court performance would make RJ Luis and Matt Cross the two best candidates to lead this team. Even as a freshman, Luis is a special scorer, who can find a shot from all three levels. But he’s young and still has a lot to learn before he can lead a team on a nightly basis, both on the floor and as a leader. Cross is the only player that showed tenacity on a consistent basis, but a sprained MCL and going to the hospital after losing almost 20 pounds makes it difficult for any player to maintain that. Not to mention, Cross has said he’s naturally not much of an outward leader, and tries to lead with action and toughness.

Then there’s Wildens Leveque, who’s been with Martin for four years and knows him better than any other player on this team. Transferring from a Power-5 school to the A-10 didn’t equate to upward progression. He dealt with tendinitis in his knee for much of the season, and though he didn’t really show it, it clearly affected him.

“[Wildens] ended up getting engulfed,” Martin said. “He’s always a secondary guy and now he had to embrace leadership. And no one really helped him in that department as the season went on. I felt bad because I didn’t know how to help him.”

Keon Thompson is who Martin considered his best leader late in the season. The quiet-natured point guard was nobody’s pick for UMass’ top leader, but that’s how this up-and-down season panned out. The freshman charged the offense late in the season, but never on a consistent basis, nor was that ever the expectation for him at the beginning of the year.

Throughout much of the season Martin talked about his team’s lack of leadership, and inability to handle difficult moments. There was no moment more difficult than Tuesday, when UMass tied its season low for first half points (18), trailing the Spiders (15-17, 7-11 A-10) by 13. With no leadership, the Minutemen’s offensive troubles snowballed and there was never even a glimpse of fighting back in the second half.

Fernandes certainly helps that cause when healthy, but they don’t have the personnel for a deep conference tournament run. This team is full of solid complimentary players that could make for a really strong team with a couple of legitimate leaders at the helm. Whether Fernandes returns for a graduate season or not remains unknown, but Martin needs leaders his team can lean on in weak moments such as Tuesday if UMass wants to be a strong Atlantic 10 team.

An embarrassing loss such as this shows how badly Martin and the Minutemen need consistent leadership, but with the conference at a weak point currently, a decent offseason could propel them into the higher echelon of the A-10.

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

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