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 pushes through offensive struggles, beats South Florida 66-56

Minutemen hold Bulls to 27 percent shooting
Kalina Kornacki
Daily Collegian (2023)

It wasn’t the prettiest game of basketball, but the Massachusetts men’s basketball team won a hard-fought affair Saturday afternoon in their 66-56 victory over the South Florida Bulls (2-4).

Neither team shot over 33 percent for the game. Both teams combined to make just nine of their 47 three-point attempts (19 percent). There were 36 turnovers, 57 fouls, 68 attempted free-throws.

However, for UMass (4-1), the win counts all the same.

“A lot of times, people say, ‘Well, we played hard,’” Martin said. “Well, that’s great but it doesn’t mean you played well. We did play hard, they played hard…the physicality and defensive mindset that they play with, we needed that.”

Despite their offensive struggles, the Minutemen were still able to get a couple of key performances that pushed the team past the finish line. The most effective player for UMass was again Josh Cohen, with his day boosted by a plethora of appearances at the charity stripe. The senior big man played a season-high 35 minutes and scored 21 points on just 4-of-7 shooting, with 13 of his 21 points coming from the free throw line.

“We like the messy games,” Cohen said. “That helps us. I mean, we play hard, we played harder than them…At the end of the day, we’re going to rely on our defense to win us games, and that’s what we did tonight. Defense travels, and hopefully we can keep carrying it through the whole season.”

Past Cohen, sophomore guard Keon Thompson was the only other Minuteman to score in double figures. Thompson continued to show confidence in leading the UMass offense, and he did the bulk of his scoring work in the paint, finishing four of his six shot attempts at the rim. He had 12 points, four rebounds, two assists and an impressive chase-down block.

With inefficient offensive performances hurting both teams, a seven-point Minutemen halftime lead felt like a large advantage. Without perimeter shots falling, both teams had to rely on offensive rebounds and inside looks to score points, leading to an incredibly high number of foul calls.

But UMass’ defense never faltered in the game’s final frame, and that seven-point halftime lead never dipped below the number over the contest’s concluding 20 minutes.

“The thing we always say in the huddle is finish, finish these teams,” Cohen said. “When you have a lead, when you relax a little bit, once you let one inch go of where you’re at, a team takes a huge step.”

South Florida never took that huge step, with the Bulls offense failing to find its footing in Amherst. Kennesaw State transfer Chris Youngblood came in as the team’s leading scorer, averaging 13.8 points per game.

On Saturday, he was held to four points on 1-of-13 shooting, a season low. Freshman wing Jayden Ndjigue, already one of the Minutemen’s key perimeter defenders, got Youngblood as his assignment: the first-year player held him in check.

South Florida’s lone bright spot on offense was Selton Miguel, who finished with 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting. Miguel was also the game’s main perimeter threat, as the former Kansas State player went 4-of-5 from deep. Without him, the Bulls went just 1-of-17 behind the arc.

For Frank Martin’s squad, it’s a second straight 4-1 start to their season. The non-conference schedule steps up a notch throughout December, but for now, the Minutemen are winning games, no matter how pretty or ugly they may be.

“We turn the ball over so much and we miss so many free throws…[we went] 16 percent from three and you go out and you beat a good South Florida team,” Cohen said. “We just got to clean the little things up and this team, the sky’s the limit for us.”

UMass’ next game is on Wednesday, as the Minutemen play their first road game of the season against Towson. Tipoff is at 7:00 p.m. and the game will be streamed on FloSports.

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

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