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

Matt Cross ties program record in outstanding game against Siena

Cross ties program record with eight steals
Dylan Nguyen
Daily Collegian (2022)

Matt Cross was a two-way star as the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s leading scorer and leading force on the defensive end in a 79-66 home victory over Siena on Saturday. Cross stuffed the stat sheet with 24 points, nine rebounds, five assists and eight steals against the Saints (2-11). His eight steals tied a program record last achieved by Luwane Pipkins in 2016.

“[Cross is] a really good player that’s worked really, really hard to grow,” head coach Frank Martin said. “He’s been looking for [a place that allows him to grow] for a long time, and for whatever reason, he believes in who we are here at UMass … His growth in the last 12 months has been incredible as a human being which is allowing him to now become a better basketball player. You can’t become a better player unless you grow as a human being, it doesn’t work the other way… He’s done that.”

“If they tell me I got to get in a dark alley and he’s with me, I know I’m getting to the other side, I don’t even blink.”

One of UMass’ (9-3) three returners and a cornerstone piece for the team, the senior played just how Martin likes it: fast, getting downhill and turning defense into offense with his forced turnovers. He propelled the Minutemen to 25 fastbreak points and 26 points off turnovers.

It’s not every day that a team’s No. 1 scorer dominates the defensive side like Cross did. He could’ve broken the record late in the second half when he forced another turnover, but the steal was credited to Keon Thompson who took it to the basket to continue a big night of his own.

Many of Cross’ steals came when following ball pressure by Thompson, when Cross read Siena’s players like a defensive back reads a quarterback’s eyes then undercuts the route to intercept the pass.

“That’s Frank [Martin’s] philosophy, and everyone’s been talking about our offense this year,” Cross said. “I’ve just gone into this year trying to embrace Frank’s philosophy of defense, setting the tone. [Keon Thompson] makes it easy for us because he’s heating the ball up out there all game [on the defensive end] so when they get pressured and they want to throw it away, they make dumb passes and it makes it easy for me.”

His steals led to him scoring one layup, one dunk, four made free throws and one and-one, totaling 11 points off turnovers by himself.

At a crucial point in the contest, the Saints cut the UMass lead down to four with 15 minutes left in the game. Cross proceeded to steal the ball, earn two free throws at the other end which he knocked down, then he stole it again in the next possession and buried a tomahawk dunk. In the span of 15 seconds, the lead was back up to eight.

Daily Collegian (2023) (Jonathan Shi)

“He’s always putting pressure on you,” Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said of Cross. “He’s able to drive the ball, he’s always going to test you from the three, but his game is just being a hardhat guy. And he does a good job defensively getting in passing lanes for [UMass], I thought that’s where he was really disruptive, but he just plays so hard.”

Cross’ outstanding production was even more crucial for the Minutemen due to leading scorer Josh Cohen playing just 23 minutes with foul trouble and a bad rebounding night. With five points and three rebounds, the lack of Cohen’s usual scoring presence set up Cross to dominate the game, and the Beverly, Massachusetts native responded with high-end production and his cleanest game yet this season.

“He was struggling early in the game today,” Martin said, “and he saw us struggle. And if you paid attention he finally said, ‘nobody is going to help me today? So I got to go carry this burden,’ and he did, give him credit. And he elevated the other guys.”

Despite playing 36 minutes with a high usage rate, Cross finished with just one foul and no turnovers. It was the first time this season he had less than two fouls and the second time he didn’t turn the ball over in a game.

He was efficient in the shooting department as well, taking high-quality shots and consistently getting to the free throw line. Cross shot 7-for-14 from the field and 10-for-10 from the line.

The importance of the 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward cannot be understated. Martin consistently calls him the identity of this UMass team, with his physical play, leadership and overall ability in all aspects of basketball all being crucial assets, especially for a young team like the Minutemen.

Cross has the ability to play anywhere from two to five. He’ll sometimes bring the ball up the court, dish out dimes or dribble to the rack like a guard. So far this season he’s the team’s leading assist-getter, and against the Saints, he dished out five of them with no turnovers. He’s also the team’s best rebounder and strongest interior presence defensively and led UMass in boards again on Saturday. In fact, Cross led the Minutemen in every base statistical category outside of blocks.

His rare combination of size, speed, effort and a smart basketball mind is everything for this team and can create performances like this.

Cross and UMass will have the chance to shine again on Wednesday, Jan. 3 as the Minutemen face off against Duquesne at home in the team’s opening Atlantic 10 matchup.

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

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