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 defeats league-leading Richmond 69-59 on the road

Season-defining victory puts Minutemen in A-10’s top five
Matt Skillings
Daily Collegian (2024)

The Massachusetts basketball team got its first signature victory of the season Wednesday night, knocking off the Atlantic 10’s co-leaders, the Richmond Spiders.

The 69-59 final score has enormous implications for UMass (16-8, 7-5 A-10) in multiple facets.

“There’s decisions [coaches] got to make,” coach Frank Martin said. “And we made them. And our players, like they’ve done all year, man, they followed our lead and then went out there and played their rear ends off.”

If going off KenPom ranks, this is the second-best victory of Frank Martin’s time in Amherst (behind Colorado in last season’s Myrtle Beach Invitational). There’s a case to be made that it is the best victory of his tenure, given that the Colorado one was on a neutral court whereas this is a road win versus an A-10 opponent.

Wednesday’s victory also shook the proverbial monkey off the Minutemen’s backs when it came to road games. While NET and KenPom each had this UMass squad as a top-100 team, the Minutemen had yet to prove themselves on the road. Heading into Wednesday, UMass’ lone away win was against basement-dweller Saint Louis.

With Richmond (17-7, 9-2 A-10) in the top 75 of the NET, the road win also marks UMass’ first Quad 1 win of the season, an important designation if the team wants to continue playing games after its conference tournament concludes. And the Minutemen won by double digits, boosting its own numbers in the metrics.

And don’t forget the conference implications. With the victory, UMass moves up to fifth in the A-10 standings, just 1.5 games out of a top-four spot and a double-bye in the conference tournament. The team standing between them and that coveted distinction? VCU, who happens to visit the Mullins Center next Tuesday.

This was a statement victory for the Minutemen – and it came relatively easy, about as easy as it can be on the road against a top team in conference play.

After an opening stretch where no one could find consistent buckets, UMass took a 10-9 lead about nine minutes in thanks to a Keon Thompson free throw. From there, the Minutemen never trailed again, opening up a lead as large as 17 at one point.

A large part of that was due to Martin’s defensive gameplan. The coach put a 1-3-1 zone defense into play early on, preventing Spiders coach Chris Mooney and his Princeton-style offense from exploiting matchups through back cuts and ball screens.

“I thought we kept them off balance using that zone,” Martin said.

On offense, for much of the first half, UMass got good looks thanks to a combination of well-run sets and miscommunication from the Richmond defense. In the second half, when the Spiders dug their heels in a little more, slowly chipping away at their deficit, the Minutemen responded by doing what it’s done all season long: playing with relentless physicality.

That gameplan led to UMass going 16-of-19 from the free throw line in the second half alone, with the team getting 50 percent of its second-half scoring from the charity stripe. Winning the rebounding battle was crucial for the Minutemen to stave off Richmond as well, and the team won that with authority, snagging twice as many rebounds as the Spiders in the second frame.

Matt Cross played a large part in UMass’ physicality advantage, finishing with 13 rebounds to go along with 16 points for his fourth double-double of the season. Keon Thompson was one rebound away from his first career double-double, as the sophomore guard continued to showcase his motor through multiple impressive plays, including a chasedown block on Mikkel Tyne midway through the second. He finished with 13 points and nine boards.

Richmond was led by transfer guard Jordan King, who finished with 11 points on 3-of-11 shooting. The Spiders as a whole shot just 33.3 percent from the floor and 28 percent from three. This was Richmond’s first home loss of the season.

UMass took revenge after falling to Richmond in disastrous fashion in the opening round of last year’s A-10 Tournament.

“The good thing that we’re excited about [now] is we’re playing relevant games in February,” Martin said.

“Last year in February was a lonely place when we’re playing to try to not be embarrassed…When you play relevant games, it puts you in a place where you can get a good seed going into the conference tournament, which then gives you a realistic chance of maybe making a run when the time comes.”

That time will arrive rather quickly for the Minutemen, with only six regular season games remaining. Next up is a weekend trip to Philadelphia, as UMass will take on La Salle Saturday afternoon. Tipoff’s at 2:00 p.m. on ESPN+.

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

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    Jim WendelFeb 15, 2024 at 3:34 pm

    Great article.