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

Four takeaways from UMass’ exhibition win against Western Connecticut State

First competitive look at the Minutemen in Frank Martin’s second year
Kayla Wong
Daily Collegian (2023)

Massachusetts men’s basketball returned on Wednesday night with an 85-41 exhibition win against Western Connecticut State at the Mullins Center. While it’s not the regular season yet, both teams played as if March was around the corner. Here are four takeaways from UMass’ performance.

Take it with a grain of salt

This is a preseason exhibition game against a Division-III school, so the first takeaway is to not take this victory too seriously. Yes, it’s the first time we’ve seen the new-look roster in a competitive environment, but there isn’t much from this performance that can be taken at face value when looking ahead to the season because of the fact that Western Connecticut plays at a lower level.

From a coaching standpoint, however, it’s a different story. UMass coach Frank Martin says there’s “a lot” he can learn from an exhibition.

“I thought offensively we, other than getting sloppy against the press, I thought the ball movement was excellent,” Martin said. “You know, we didn’t shoot it great … we missed layups and little dinks, and we got to shoot it a little bit better collectively than what we did today, but I thought we take good shots as a team. I really do.”

The freshmen look comfortable

With six out of 11 scholarship players being freshmen, they’ll be expected to play a lot right away. And they look ready for college basketball.

UMass’ top-5 minute getters were all freshmen against the Wolves. The game’s leading scorer was Robert Davis Jr., who had 20 points while going 6-for-12 from behind the three-point line. Despite the high number of turnovers from the team, Davis Jr. didn’t contribute to that number. Three-star point guard Jaylen Curry was dangerous in transition and showed promise as a floor general despite a bad shooting performance. He finished with four assists and five steals.

Freshman wing Jayden Ndjigue also saw a lot of action and looked solid. He led the game in assists with six, all in the first half, and did most of his offensive damage in transition. Ndjigue showed major effort and his length proved useful on both sides of the court. He exited the game with 5:45 left after suffering from cramps, finishing with seven points, four rebounds — including three offensive, — six assists and three steals.

“[The freshmen] all work extremely hard,” UMass forward Matt Cross said. “Even if they make a mistake, they made the mistake really hard. So I think that’s all you can ask for. They listen, it’s kind of a unity, this team, and everyone can coach each other up without getting too riled up or in their own head. So I think it’s a good group of freshmen because I mean, they’re in the gym 24/7 as well. I think they just really want it and they work really hard.”

Surprisingly, 7-foot-3 freshman center Mathok Majok led the Minutemen in minutes played with 24, including 17 in the second half. He finished with two points, 14 rebounds and three blocks, but most importantly proved he can handle extended minutes.

In the second half, Majok had a sequence in which he grabbed three consecutive offensive rebounds off missed three-pointers in one possession. He kicked it out twice, but on the third time threw it down for a two-handed put-back jam. Majok then stuffed a floater on the defensive end in the following possession. It wasn’t all pretty; he often looked lost (as would anyone who’s only been playing basketball for less than two years) and doesn’t look physically ready for Division-I basketball, but the flashes were encouraging.

Josh Cohen must stay out of foul trouble

He also has to stay healthy. Cohen didn’t play in the second half after exiting the game because of pain in his back. He and Cross are the best big-man options that are currently healthy, with Cross ideally being deployed on the wing. Martin has mentioned that he intended to use Cohen at the four, but with Sawyer Mayhugh leaving the team, Cohen is now forced to be the starting center — and if he goes down, the team might be in trouble.

Majok “is not there yet,” according to Martin. Daniel Hankins-Sanford is just now getting healthy (expected to practice on Thursday), so without Cohen, Cross suddenly becomes the only viable option for a big man, forcing Martin to play a small-ball lineup that, if last year was of any indication, doesn’t appeal to him in the slightest.

However, Martin showed he was more than willing to adapt to the skills of his current personnel.

Three-pointers galore

UMass’ 47 attempted three-pointers almost doubled last year’s season high of 26, which shows that Martin is willing to cater his offense to the players he has available. It wasn’t inefficient shooting either; the Minutemen made 18 of those, a 38.3 percent rate.

“I get a rep, Pedro, that I don’t let players play. It’s funny,” Martin said. “The leading scorer in the history of [Kansas State] played for me. The second-leading scorer in the history of South Carolina played for me… I adapt. It’s my job to adapt to the talent of our team. We got a bunch of guards and the ball movement is really good.

“And if I’m playing two big guys, which I do like to play, then we’ve got to play through the post to get it in the paint. But right now, that’s not our personnel. So we’re trying to get the ball in the paint through cuts and dribble drives. I wasn’t happy how we drove the ball today. I was happy with our ball movement, but we got to now learn, move it, move it, space it, drive it. We got to drive it better.”

Martin let his guards play on Wednesday. As long as the Minutemen are lacking in the frontcourt, there’s no reason to think that’ll change as the season goes on. Expect the UMass offense to look much different than it did last year, and much more perimeter-focused.

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

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