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 men’s hoops drops close one at St. Bonaventure

Missed opportunities haunt Minutemen in six-point loss
Matt Skillings
Daily Collegian (2024)

It was a golden opportunity for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team.

At 5-4 in the Atlantic 10 and in sole possession of fifth place, the team sat at a crossroads. If the Minutemen won Wednesday, they’d maintain their fifth-place spot and their odds of securing a top four finish –– and subsequent double-bye in the conference tournament, would rise to 41 percent. All UMass had to do was knock off St. Bonaventure on the road. No small feat, to be fair, but the Bonnies weren’t world beaters: they entered the contest one game behind the Minutemen in the A-10 standings.

After 40 minutes, that opportunity came and went for UMass (14-8, 5-5 A-10). The Minutemen fell 79-73 to St. Bonaventure (14-8, 5-5 A-10), dropping them to eighth in a jam-packed A-10. Their odds of a double-bye are now just 21 percent.

“Just another Atlantic 10 basketball game,” head coach Frank Martin said. “Defensively, last three and a half, four minutes, they just put us in ball screens and our center would not guard the ball screen. So they just kept getting into the paint and then we were scrambling and then we couldn’t get any stops.”

The star center, Josh Cohen, had his worst night in a Massachusetts uniform against the Bonnies. The Minutemen’s senior big failed to do anything of note no matter who was on him. Cohen finished with just four points, his lowest outing this season when playing over 15 minutes, and shot just 2-of-8 from the floor.

To add insult to injury, two of Cohen’s misses came at the worst possible times for UMass. With under two minutes remaining and the Minutemen down one, Cohen’s frontcourt mate Matt Cross was looking to make something happen. A drive to the rim attracted two Bonaventure defenders, leaving Cohen open next to the rim. Cross delivered a wraparound pass right into the center’s hands, where despite a late contest, it seemed like a guarantee that UMass would take back their one-point lead. Only it didn’t, with Cohen’s layup bouncing off the front of the rim.

Later on, the situation was much more dire for the Minutemen. After another missed close-range shot, this time by Keon Thompson, a couple late free throws stretched the Bonnies lead to three with 22 seconds remaining. Martin drew up a play during UMass’ final timeout.

“I was trying to just open up the court because I knew they were going to start switching every ball screen,” Martin said. “We were trying to take a wide-open three…if not, I wanted either [Thompson] or [Cross to] just drive the ball from the top. But [Thompson] passed it to [Cohen]. He felt [Cohen] was open.”

Cohen was open for a moment. With Bonaventure big Chad Venning flying at him, Cohen delivered a pump fake and then attempted an off-balance three. He tried to draw a foul by leaning into Venning. However, the opponent was too far past him at that point to lean into. Cohen’s attempt bounced off the back of the rim, and a loose ball led to a game-clinching Venning slam on the other end.

Despite the UMass star’s struggles, the team led the Bonnies for almost 70 percent of the contest. Between the 17:36 and 10:41 in the first half, the Minutemen went on a 20-4 run. They eventually held a 13-point lead, with Cross and Thompson leading the way.

However, many of UMass’ wings and bigs dealt with foul trouble, and their absences led to better looks for Bonaventure players as the game progressed. This group included Cohen, Jayden Ndjigue and Daniel Hankins-Sanford, as all three had to sit out for large chunks of the game.

The leaders for the Minutemen were two mainstays from last season’s roster: Cross and Thompson. Cross bounced back nicely from a quiet performance against George Mason, as the senior had 19 points, six rebounds and five assists on 8-of-13 shooting. Meanwhile, Thompson showed off an improved stroke from deep, hitting two threes, but attacking the rim remained the point guard’s bread and butter. The sophomore finished with 16 points and a team-leading seven rebounds on 7-of-9 shooting.

The Bonnies were led by Charles Pride, who had an efficient 19-point night. The Bryant transfer was one of the main beneficiaries of a depleted UMass frontcourt, and all eight of his baskets were scored in the paint. Venning and Mika Adams-Woods had 15 each for Bonaventure, with both going 5-of-9 from the field.

With Wednesday’s loss, the Minutemen are now .500 in league play. Their chances of finishing in the A-10’s top six are still above 50 percent, while the odds of playing on the conference tournament’s opening day again are just 13 percent. To avoid that opening-round game, the team will likely need to close out a couple more games on the road, where it is currently 1-5.

The next away date for UMass is Feb. 14, but before that, the Minutemen welcome Rhode Island into the Mullins Center on Super Bowl Sunday where the group hopes to avenge a 12-point road loss suffered earlier in conference play. Tipoff is at 2 p.m. on USA Network.

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

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