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

Cross scores 31 in dominant UMass win over Central Connecticut State

Matt Cross and Josh Cohen combine for 57 points
Jonathan Shi
Daily Collegian (2023)

Matt Cross exploded for a career-high 31 points, combining with Josh Cohen’s 26 to lead the Massachusetts men’s basketball team to an 89-60 win at home against Central Connecticut State on Wednesday.

The team’s key returner, Cross showed the next level of his game with 19 points on 8-for-8 shooting in the first half. He dominated everywhere on the court, driving to the basket, pulling up from midrange and hitting all three of his attempts from deep. Cross shot 11-for-13 in the game, adding nine rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks to his 31 points in a showstopping performance.

“That loyalty, that courage, deserves to be rewarded,” UMass head coach Frank Martin said of Cross’ tough end to the season last year. “He understands me and I understand him. We’re both in a much better place, and a game like this hopefully keeps adding to that confidence.

After having averaged three points in first halves so far this season, his aggressiveness took a jump without having to deal with early foul trouble like he did in all previous games. He took advantage, helping the Minutemen (3-1) control the game from the first minute. The Blue Devils (1-4) led for the first 20 seconds of the contest after scoring the first point, but never had another lead.

Cross’ partner in the frontcourt, Josh Cohen complemented his own 26 points with seven rebounds and two assists while shooting a near-perfect 10-of-11 from the field. He showed composure by getting back on track from the charity stripe, making 5-of-6 on Wednesday after going 3-for-10 against Harvard.

“We knew we could attack them at the basket,” Cross said. “It happened early, killing them at the rim, down low, so we just kept riding with it and our guards kept finding us on post-ups. When they do that and they clear the space in the area it just makes it easier for us … [they] gave us free will in getting the positions we want to be.”

“We got two guys who are over 235, 250 pounds and know how to score [in the paint], we have to utilize them, we can’t not pay attention to them,” Martin said. “Josh [Cohen] is an established Division-I low post scorer. Matt [Cross] has grown in that department … That was the emphasis going into this game.”

UMass’ third leading scorer of the day was freshman guard Jaylen Curry, with 11 points and four assists on 5-for-7 shooting.

After Central Connecticut State hung on with some shot-making to make it 16-17 after 10 minutes, the Minutemen went on a 10-2 run and eventually closed out the half with a 12-point lead. UMass got back from the break in dominant fashion, starting the second half with a 16-0 run over three minutes behind Cohen and Cross with seven points each.

There were many aspects to the Minutemen’s control. They shot an efficient 60 percent from the field and 38 percent from deep and held the Blue Devils to 34 percent from the floor.

Perhaps one of the biggest factors of the team’s performance early in the season has been its ability to control the basketball. UMass ranked second in the country in turnover percentage at 10.2 percent going into this game. Martin’s group now have a 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio on the season after notching 29 assists to 11 turnovers against CCSU.

A lot of that success lies on the returning guard duo of Rahsool Diggins and Keon Thompson taking major steps over the offseason. The two have emphasized taking care of the ball and the benefits are palpable as they play with maturity and composure.

Martin has talked about finding out what the team really is when they face adversity, and after they faced adversity for the first time this season with a close loss to Harvard, the Minutemen bounced back in strong fashion on Wednesday.

“[We tried to] get rid of that [loss],” Cross said, “[it’s] in the past, quick, move on, and it was pretty impressive to see such a young group then move on, coming to practice like it didn’t happen, play even harder. So it was good.”

UMass will have a nine-day break before facing off against the University of South Florida at home on Saturday, Dec. 2.

“You got to trust your old guys,” Martin said on how to keep the team focused. “They deserve a break man, you got to remember, the season’s long … I’m getting to a place where I have faith in these old guys that they’ll come back from this break excited about who we’ve become and ready to work to grow from that point forward.”

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

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