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

UMass freshmen’s readiness shines in first four games

The freshmen contribute 23 points against Central Connecticut State
Jonathan Shi
Jaylen Curry (front) and Robert Davis Jr. (back) defend against Harvard / Daily Collegian (2023)

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team was completely revamped over the offseason, with seven freshmen among the changes. Four games into the season, UMass (3-1) has won by 20 or more points in each of its three wins and its only loss was by three in overtime. Complemented with the experienced older players on the team, the Minutemen’s seven freshmen have made a smooth transition into collegiate basketball.

The UMass freshmen include Jayden Ndjigue, who has started all four games for the Minutemen, Jaylen Curry, Robert Davis Jr, Marqui Worthy, Tarique Foster, Mathok Majok and Rollie Castineyra. After a summer of intense training to prepare for the season, each player has been ready for their name to be called since the start of the season.

With an 89-60 win over Central Connecticut State (1-4) on Wednesday afternoon, UMass responded to last week’s close loss to Harvard with senior forwards Matt Cross and Josh Cohen combining for 57 points.

But another bright spot has been the freshmen and their readiness to play from the start of the season. All seven freshmen saw the court against the Blue Devils and totaled for 23 points, with guard Jaylen Curry leading them in scoring with 11.

“It was pretty impressive to see such a young group of them move on and come in and practice like it didn’t happen and play even harder,” Cross said of the freshmen’s response from last week’s loss.

Curry’s 11-point performance was a career high as he continues to improve his performance in each game he plays. He shot 5-7 in field goals with two rebounds and four assists. Curry has averaged 20 minutes and around eight points per game for UMass as he continues to be an effective ball handler and scorer coming off the bench for the Minutemen.

UMass’s starting guard, Ndjigue, has played the most minutes out of all the freshmen and has meshed well with the more experienced players in the starting five, averaging five points and four rebounds per game.

Against Central Connecticut State, Ndjigue was just 1-for-1 in shooting with two points but had two rebounds, five assists and one block. Ndjigue makes his impact felt in many other aspects outside of shooting for the Minutemen, both offensively and defensively, as he has totaled 16 rebounds, 10 assists and six blocks in four games.

Head coach Frank Martin commented on Ndjigue’s performance: “We live in an era where we over celebrate the flamboyance and whether it be points or dunks or whatever it may be, [Ndjigue’s] a winner and that’s what I celebrate and he knows everybody’s responsibility on the court, he knows his responsibility…he’s constantly in communication… he’s just rock solid.”

Martin has played many lineups that include three or four of the freshmen being out on the court at a time, demonstrating the faith he has in his players and how well-prepared they have been to take on that responsibility so early in the season.

The freshmen’s contributions against the Blue Devils continued with Worthy’s two-point, three-assist performance and Foster nailing two three-pointers and grabbing a rebound in his seven minutes of play. Mathok Majok, the 7-foot-3 center from South Sudan had a highlight-reel putback dunk for his first collegiate points after being ineligible to play in the first three games of the season.

“[Majok] can contest a lot of stuff at the rim and then he can get those putbacks and lobs…it was good to see,” Cross said. “I love seeing Mathok get in there finally and get in the rotation.”

Another highly-touted freshman, Davis struggled against Central Connecticut State but had found success in previous games for the Minutemen, averaging three points and two rebounds a game to start the year.

In all, the freshmen combined for 21 points against Albany, 33 against Quinnipiac, 19 against Harvard and now 23 against Central Connecticut State.

UMass has a lot of depth with the seven young players on the team and Coach Martin has found ways to get a lot of the UMass players involved in the game, no matter their age or level of experience.

“I got a lot of guys that have done everything I’ve asked that deserve to play and I got guys that are trying to learn how to play,” Martin said, “they do everything I ask them to do, and I got to figure out a way to throw them out there.”

The transition from high school to collegiate sports is never an easy switch to make, especially for young players, but Martin has credited the freshmen’s high school coaches for preparing them for the impactful roles they have played to start the season.

Samantha Sands can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @samantha_sands_

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