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

Gray Soares: Matt Cross’ second half showings must become a full game

Cross averages 14.3 points, 8.3 rebounds per game
Jonathan Shi
Daily Collegian (2023)

Matt Cross is everything to the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, yet he can be even better if he plays at his best over a full game.

In UMass’ (2-1) 78-75 overtime loss to Harvard on Friday, Cross scored 16 points and grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds for the sixth double-double of his career. Cross’ energy was palpable, constantly diving for loose balls, outworking opponents for rebounds and even lifting a Crimson (4-0) player off the ground while trying to rip the ball from his hands. Cross grabbed nine offensive rebounds by himself, which at one point was more than Harvard had in the game.

“That’s why our team has a chance,” head coach Frank Martin said. “When your best player is so committed to the way we’re trying to build this program, that’s why our team has a chance. He’s a hoss, man. He’s in a much better space as a basketball player right now to deal with that kind of [a physical] game.”

The returning forward is the cornerstone piece of the team, and his contribution goes way beyond just putting the ball in the basket. His impact cannot be understated.

Cross’ effort and toughness give the team an identity and set the example for a young squad. It’s what led Martin to call him the heart and soul of the team. But the All-Atlantic 10 preseason Third Team selection can reach another level of production if he can start games in the same way that he finishes them.

Cross went into halftime against the Crimson with four points to his name on 2-for-6 shooting and no free throws attempted.

The 6-foot-7-inch senior came back from the break and put up a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double in the second half and overtime alone, while shooting 4-of-8 from the field and 3-of-4 from the foul line.

“[Cross] was locked in in practice,” Martin said. I didn’t have no secret formula. That’s why I ran the first play of the second half for him. He was locked in, ready to go. He missed some dinks in the first half…For all those offensive rebounds and all the plays at the rim, we got to figure out a way [to] get him to the line a little bit more. He’s got to learn how to shot-fake a little bit, he’s [in] a much better place thereHis effort, he’s all man out there, man.

His second half efforts have been outstanding but foul trouble has limited him considerably in the first half of games. Cross is averaging three points per game in the first half this season and hasn’t shot a single free throw in the first 20 minutes of a contest so far.

But in second halves, Cross averages 11.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.3 free throws attempted.

It feels like almost every time he decides to take off and drive to the basket, UMass gets a positive outcome from it –– whether it be free throws, a basket or an open 3. He must be more aggressive.

What’s holding him back this season has been foul trouble early in the game. Cross has picked up two early fouls in each of the Minutemen’s three games so far, with a prime example of his performances coming against Quinnipiac: two early fouls limited him to four minutes in the first half, and he came out and scored 16 points in the second.

Yet what makes him so valuable is how much he can contribute even when he isn’t scoring. His interior presence on both ends of the court is one of the most crucial assets to the team. Martin has mentioned concerns surrounding defensive rebounding and interior defense. Without Cross, the team would be lost in those departments.

“I think that’s just something I can bring and help out with is rebounding and physicality,” Cross said. “As an older guy, there’s more on your shoulders than just doing one thing on the court.”

“Even last year, I mean, I was technically the three but it’s just rebound, be physical, be the most physical guy on the court, kind of set the tone early with that,” Cross said. “You know, the hustle plays, whether it’s rip it from someone’s hands, dive on the floor, get in a little scuffle with the ball or something just getting the energy up for our team. I think that’s just kind of been my role throughout the past two years, different position on the four now, last year I was a three, but I think the same thing: no matter what position you are, you can always rebound the ball.”

If Martin’s praises of him this offseason are of any indication and if he can stay away from early fouls, Cross can take the next step and become a bona fide star for the Minutemen.

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

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