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

RJ Luis-led UMass fall short to Duquesne on the road

Luis scored 23 points in the loss
Kayla Wong/Daily Collegian (2023)

A week’s rest didn’t serve the Massachusetts men’s basketball team well in its 88-79 road loss at Duquesne on Wednesday. The Minutemen took an early blow and had to play catch-up in the second half, falling short of a comeback behind RJ Luis’ 23-point night.

“As soon as things get hard, we get into the blame game,” UMass coach Frank Martin said. “It’s disappointing. And we weren’t that way up until December. We’ve been fighting that since we got back from Christmas so it is what it is. It’s not fun right now. I used to tell you guys I had fun coaching this team. It hasn’t been fun in a while.”

Luis continued to rise as the team’s primary option, scoring over 20 points for the fourth time this season. The freshman also added seven rebounds and three steals, but a turnover problem persisted with six on the night. His scoring doesn’t just come in outbursts; Luis scored less than 10 points only twice in conference play this season. With his 31-point game against the Dukes (20-10, 10-7 Atlantic 10) earlier in the season, Luis hasn’t had trouble scoring on Keith Dambrot’s defense.

Forwards Dyondre Dominguez and Isaac Kante provided some scoring from the front court. Dominguez had 17 points and nine rebounds while Kante added 15 points and five boards. The trio of Luis, Dominguez and Kante shot efficiently, keeping Minutemen (14-15, 5-12 A-10) afloat, all making over 60 percent of their shots. But turnovers and unreliable defense marked the team’s downfall despite scoring 49 points in the second half.

Leadership and communication issues are at the center of UMass’ problems in Martin’s first year in charge. No one steps up to organize the defense, and when teams go on a run there’s no one to stop the snowball from rolling down the hill. Noah Fernandes and Matt Cross were a large part of the Minutemen’s identity; the team had struggled with communication since early in the season, but when they went down with injuries the issue multiplied.

“You got to talk,” Kante said. “You definitely have to talk. I feel like we were just like confused, we look confused out there sometimes because of lack of communication. And [Martin is] right. That’s actually been a struggle for us, I feel like all season. We talk a lot off the court as teammates but on the court, we’re just quiet. And that can’t be. And really good teams are always talking, they never stop talking, they never stop communicating, so we definitely have to get better at that.”

A bright spot in UMass’ rocky season: Thompson’s maturation at the guard spot. The freshman stepped in for Fernandes and handled both offensive and defensive responsibilities with intensity and toughness. His 11 points and four assists marks a third straight game in double-digit scoring.

More importantly, Thompson provides some aid in an area the Minutemen need most.

“[Thompson] talks. He actually talks,” Martin said. “He actually pays attention to what we’re running and tries to do it. And he drives me nuts because some of the mistakes that he makes with, again, when you’re playing a freshman, that’s what you get. Of all the guys on the team, he’s been the most consistent with his daily approach.

“He brings a great approach and he’s been playing better as the year goes on. He’s gotten consistently better as the year goes on, and as a coach, that’s what you’re looking for.”

For Duquesne, Jimmy Clark III shredded the Minuteman defense with one of his best performances of the season. Clark III ended the night (and UMass’ hopes of avoiding the first round of the A-10 tourney) with 18 points, eight assists and five steals while shooting 4-for-5 from deep. He buried multiple daggers from deep to stop the Minutemen’s comeback attempt midway through the second half.

UMass has one game left in the regular season, a Senior Day home matchup against St. Bonaventure on Saturday, March 4th. Tip off is set for 2:30 p.m. and the game will be nationally televised on USA Network.

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