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

Offense shines as UMass beats West Virginia

Four Minutemen crack double-digits in Hall of Fame Classic
Jonathan Shi
Daily Collegian (2023)

In a game that was a battle all the way through and came down to the very end, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team came out on top.

UMass (6-2) defeated West Virginia (4-6) 87-79 in the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic on Saturday night in Springfield, Massachusetts in one of the Minutemen’s highest-profile matchups in recent years. The offense was prolific and UMass rose to the occasion when the game got close.

The Minutemen dominated in the first half, producing one of the best halves they have played all season as they led West Virginia by 15, only losing the lead for 44 seconds out of the full 20 minutes. During the first half, UMass went on a 24-5 run that elapsed over seven minutes long and was pure dominance on both sides of the ball.

 “I want people to sit around and say, ‘Frank’s got really good players,’” head coach Frank Martin said. “That’s why we want to play with pace. When you play with pace, that means as a coach you got to put the trust in your players, not into your sets, you got to have balance.”

The Minutemen had four players break double figures in the matchup, as they outperformed the Mountaineers offensively. Senior forward Josh Cohen led the team in scoring with 19 points, seven rebounds and two steals as he came up huge in the final minutes of regulation, giving UMass a seven-point lead to secure the victory.

Just behind Cohen was freshman guard Robert Davis Jr. who nailed six 3-pointers, giving him 18 points on his best night yet for the Minutemen. Senior forward Matt Cross had his second double-double of the season, ending with 13 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and two steals, but he turned it over seven times. Junior guard Rahsool Diggins netted 15 with three rebounds and three assists as well.

The Minutemen won the physicality matchup against the Mountaineers as they outscored them 36-24 in the paint and outrebounded them 47 to 32. The defense was strong and played with high intensity all game, fueling the offensive performance of the team.

“I like aggressive defense turned into aggressive offense,” Martin said.

UMass’ offense stayed hot and dominated on fastbreak points, putting up 34 compared to West Virginia’s 15. They also won in the free throw battle, a department in which they’ve struggled so far this season, as UMass shot 25-of-32 to the Mountaineers’ 9-of-12.

As plenty of Minutemen excelled on the court, sophomore forward Daniel Hankins-Sanford aided in the first-half control as well with eight points, seven rebounds, one block, and a steal to cap off the night. Hankins-Sanford’s defensive plays and strong rebounds created huge opportunities for his teammates.

As the game progressed, West Virginia closed the deficit in the second half, tying the game at 60 after a 14-2 run. Quinn Slazinski, the team’s leading scorer on the season, and Kerr Kriisa who made his debut for the Mountaineers each netted 20 points.

They led the team’s comeback, as West Virginia made consecutive 3-pointers and capitalized from missed opportunities by UMass to get back into the game halfway through the second.

Feeding off the energy of the team and the supporters in the arena, UMass continued to push forward and slowly regained the control they held for so long. Up by two, Cohen’s four free throws and a layup gave the Minutemen the break they needed to pull away with only minutes left. Cohen’s maturity as a player shined in this moment, as his performance earned him the Basketball Hall of Fame’s Most Valuable Player of the game.

“We came here because of the community that UMass has,” Cohen said of his decision to transfer there. “You could see the support that we had tonight, these UMass fans want to win… this was a great big step for us and building back this community.”

With UMass basketball star Marcus Camby in attendance and thousands of people dressed in maroon and white cheering them on, this had a home game feel for the Minutemen.

Looking ahead, UMass will travel to Honolulu, Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic as they will take on Georgia Tech in the first game on Dec. 21 at 9 p.m. EST.

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

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