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 finally clears road hump in marquee win at A-10 leaders Richmond

Minutemen take down Spiders who were 12-0 at home
Matt Skillings
Daily Collegian (2024)

All season long, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team has struggled to win on the road. All season long it has struggled to close out games. Now on their most challenging stage yet, the Minutemen went to Richmond and picked up a marquee win at the home of the Atlantic 10 leaders, 69-59.

Previously 1-5 on the road, UMass (16-8, 7-5 A-10) closed out the game in the most difficult place to play in the A-10. The Spiders (17-6, 9-2 A-10) were 12-0 at home before Wednesday.

“You just got to go through it, man, there’s no magic formula,” head coach Frank Martin said. “You don’t get out of bed and say, ‘okay, let me ‘Mr. Miyagi’ this thing and ‘pshhh’ and that makes us better [at winning] on the road. You got to go through it. This league’s hard, man. This league’s unbelievably balanced, there’s no easy games, there’s no easy plays, it’s very well coached. We’ve been right there.”

They’ve been right there so often. And for a second it looked like they might go home empty-handed again.

UMass led by as many as 17 points early in the second half. A few minutes later, Richmond cut the lead down to just eight with 10:30 to go after going on a 7-0 run. The Minutemen hadn’t made a field goal in three minutes, and Martin called a timeout. Entering the final stretch, it was make-or-break time for a team that has collapsed in this situation too many times before.

In the non-conference schedule, UMass led Harvard by seven with 7:27 to go, then lost in overtime after shooting 10-for-25 from the free throw line. The Minutemen also led Georgia Tech by three points with three minutes left, but poor possessions led to a three-point loss.

When A-10 play came around, UMass lost at the final buzzer in crucial games against Loyola Chicago and Saint Joseph’s after leading in the final possession of both games. Against George Mason, the Minutemen led by six with under two minutes to go, once again led until the final possession, collapsed and then got bailed out with one second left by an opponent’s mental mistake which gave them the win.

At St. Bonaventure, UMass led by 13 late in the first half and by eight in the second half, then scored four points in the last six and a half minutes of the game before losing. Finally, in its most recent affair, the Minutemen led Rhode Island by 14 with 5:36 to go, until the Rams made it a two-point game just three and a half minutes later. UMass squeezed by with the win.

So when the Minutemen entered the make-or-break stretch of an eight-point game at Richmond after previously leading comfortably, the red flags started flying everywhere. The sirens began to go off.

“At halftime that’s when we spoke about it, I said two things,” Martin said. “I said, ‘we’re on the road, and we’re playing a team that’s got a bunch of fifth-year seniors, and they’re in first place in the league. They’re going to come out, they’re coming after us.'”

“The first two possessions of the second half I just shook my head, I was like, ‘oh my God, here we go.’ But we rebounded, and then kind of kept that 10-, 12-, 14-point lead the whole half until they made a run [to cut it to eight with 10 minutes left], but we absorbed that moment and rebuilt the lead and maintained control of the game.”

On Wednesday it was different. Every time the Spiders mounted a comeback, every time they built momentum, UMass was right there to shut the door in their face. Richmond definitely did not play its best basketball. But the Minutemen overcame an awful shooting start and were constantly tested in the second half, overcoming everything that the previously undefeated at home Spiders squad threw at them. It’s UMass’ first Quad 1 win of the season.

Martin said there’s no magic formula, but if a team can learn to check certain boxes, they can become a formidable opponent regardless of where the game is played.

“If you’re going to win on the road you got to score,” Martin said. “If not, it’s hard to win on the road. Today we scored enough and we rebounded and defended, and we kept them off the foul line, and we made some free throws towards the end of the game. When you do those things, you give yourself a chance to win on the road.”

A young group with so much potential and that has been so close to clearing the hurdle many times, often falling short, may have finally learned what it takes. If they can build on their biggest win yet and continue to win on the road and close out games, an Atlantic 10 championship suddenly won’t be such a farfetched dream.

Next up, the Minutemen travel to La Salle to face the Explorers on Saturday, Feb. 17 at 2 p.m., an opportunity for momentum with another possible road win in conference play.

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

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