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

Josh Cohen proves his worth in first game with UMass men’s basketball

Senior forward scores 22 on 9-of-15 shooting against Albany
Kalina Kornacki
Daily Collegian (2023)

There were questions surrounding Saint Francis (Pa.) transfer Josh Cohen coming into Tuesday’s Massachusetts men’s basketball game.

Can the UMass big maintain good offensive numbers against a step up in competition? Will he hold his own against stronger bigs, such as Albany’s reigning America East Rookie of the Year Jonathan Beagle? Does he have the stamina to handle consistent minutes in the Atlantic 10?

While it’s just the first game of the season, Cohen’s performance Tuesday against the Great Danes (0-1) marked the first sign that the Minutemen (1-0) might have one of the A-10’s premier big men on their hands.

In 19 minutes of play, Cohen scored a team-leading 22 points, finding baskets in a variety of ways, whether by backing down defenders in the paint or squaring up on the perimeter. In a game that UMass won handily, Albany had the most trouble slowing down the Lincroft, New Jersey native.

“We wanted to front the post [with Cohen],” Great Danes head coach Dwayne Killings said. “The plan was, if they throw over the top [to him], we make plays on the ball. We lost our focus on that.”

After four years with the Red Flash, Cohen put his name in the transfer portal this past spring in search of a new home. With his announcement coming on the heels of a 21.8 point per game season that ranked 10th in the country, it was no surprise that several of college basketball’s premier programs reached out to the center. Weeks after he entered the portal, it was reported that Cohen had dozens of schools reach out, including Penn State, Iowa, Florida, Arkansas and more.

On April 6th, the commitment graphic was made: Josh Cohen was going to be a Minuteman.

After getting the starting nod for Tuesday’s contest, it took a couple minutes for Cohen to find his footing. The senior missed his first three shots, two of which came off of his own offensive rebounds. Finally, another second-chance opportunity dropped in, giving Cohen his first basket as a UMass player.

From there, it was like the big man was back in Loretto, Pennsylvania running the show for a surprisingly fast-paced Minutemen offense. Baskets came in spades for the senior in the first half, but his scoring came in bunches in the second.

“[UMass head coach Frank Martin] wants to play big inside and it’s up to me,” Cohen said. “If I don’t run the floor, I don’t get touches, so just getting up the court, doing the things I got to do, playing within the offense.”

“When he gets his back to the basket, he’s got great feel, great pace, knows when to pass, knows when to score,” Martin said. “He’s got an unorthodox way of shooting a really soft ball that goes in most of the time. We’ve worked really hard with him at learning how to play away from the basket. He shot some threes today, I’m happy, he’s worked at it.”

Past his traditional back-to-the-basket game, Cohen also nailed both of his attempts from deep against Albany. The senior had only attempted two three pointers throughout his entire career entering Tuesday’s matchup. That number has now doubled.

“He made two threes on top of the floor, which I thought kind of frustrated Jonathan [Beagle] throughout the course of the game,” Killings said.

“It was like ‘He’s not going to make it. Oh wow, he made it.’”

Defending players past half court was another element of Cohen’s game Tuesday night along with increased facilitation of the Minutemen offense, something the senior rarely ever did a season ago.

“I said ‘Josh, if somebody had told you that I was going to have you guarding ball screens on the half-court line and denying, coming up with steals 45 feet away from the basket, there’s no way you would have convinced anybody that that was going to happen,’” Martin said. “… We’re trying to get him to understand how to be more of a facilitator because he’s so smart, [he] has really good feel.”

Cohen’s final stats on the night were 22 points, eight rebounds, two assists and three steals. The senior went 9-of-15 from the floor, 2-of-2 from deep and 2-of-4 from the free throw line.

As one of the premier transfer additions in the Atlantic 10 this offseason, expectations are high for the center to contribute immediately. While it’s a high bar to play up to, Cohen passed his first test tonight and had an instant impact.

“Josh has revamped the whole building,” Martin said. “He’s got an incredible spirit. He’s got a positivity, an enthusiasm for people.”

“When the ball gets to his hands, good things happen.”

Dean Wendel can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @DeanWende1.

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