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 returns in win over St. Bonaventure

Cross logs 20 minutes off the bench
Kayla Wong / Daily Collegian (2023)

It’s been 18 days and three games since the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s leading scorer and rebounder, Matt Cross, went down with an MCL injury while driving for a layup against Loyola Chicago. On Saturday, Cross beat the clock to return for the Minutemen’s Senior Day 71-60 victory over St. Bonaventure.

After avoiding a major injury and being declared “out indefinitely” by coach Frank Martin, Cross managed to recover on time for the last game of the regular season before heading down to the Atlantic 10 in Brooklyn. It’s a massive boost for UMass (15-15, 6-12 A-10), as the Minutemen were already without star guard Noah Fernandes and will have to fight their way out of the first round in the tourney. He scored five points, four rebounds, two assists and three steals in his return.

Cross’ importance to the team is evident considering UMass could have shut him down for the year with just one game left. His return for the tournament is a testament both to how much he is valued and how much he wanted to get out there.

“No surprise,” Martin said of Cross’ return. “No surprise that we play with that physicality I’m talking about. Now we got to get him up to speed over the next two days. Like offensively today he rushed too many things. That’s what happens when you miss time, you start rushing stuff. But the strength? The toughness? He brings it. He gives everyone else courage in that department.

“As I reflect on the season…” Martin added. “Forget the A-10, go around the country and take a team and take that team’s point guard off the court and then take their best frontline guy off the court and see how they handle that responsibility, the winning and losing, especially in your first year where you’re trying to build and guys are trying to understand.”

Cross, who leads the team with 12.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game, looked both comfortable and confident out on the court. He sat on the bench to start the game, and went in at the 15:40 mark in the first half. Right out of the gate he proved his confidence never left, attempting a catch-and-shoot three without hesitation that bounced off the rim.

Athleticism-wise, he looked far from rusty. From flying in for offensive rebounds, to moving laterally and staying in front of his man and boxing out for defensive boards, Cross seemed comfortable with his knee. The point of the game was never to use him as a primary option on offense, but to phase him back into full-go mode. Still, he played a crucial defensive role and logged 20 minutes on the day, fifth most on the team.

“I missed Matt,” Rahsool Diggins said. “If you watch the game, Matt plays probably the hardest. Him getting down there and rebounding, him being physical on offense, physical on defense. Just his presence out there on the floor spaces out, excited to have him back.”

Cross’ impact covered every facet of play. A specific moment that illustrates it was at the 16:41 mark of the second half, when he stole a pass near the perimeter and took it from defense to offense. After crossing the halfway line, Cross picked up his dribble and launched a bullet of a chest pass across the middle of the Bonnies’ (14-17, 8-10 A-10) defense right to Dyondre Dominguez’s hands, who tomahawked it home to retake a 2-point lead.

Two minutes later, his jumper looked as crisp as ever as he swished a corner three to make it a 6-point lead. Cross checked out at the 10-minute mark, and had his last shift with a minute and a half remaining to help close out the game. He checked out one last time with 20 seconds left for Senior Day-honoree John Kelly.

Cross will have a chance to show what UMass has missed in his absence on Tuesday, when the Minutemen play in the first round of the A-10 Tournament in Brooklyn.

Pedro Gray Soares can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @P_GraySoares.

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