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 takes on Rhode Island in crucial conference tilt

The Minutemen look to avenge early loss to Rams
Matt Skillings
Daily Collegian (2024)

With eight regular season games remaining, every 40-minute stretch represents a major opportunity for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team to gain ground in the Atlantic 10 standings.

However, for more personal reasons, Sunday’s home matchup against Rhode Island (11-12, 5-5 A-10) may be UMass’ (14-8, 5-5 A-10) most important contest of this late season stretch. On Jan. 13 at the Ryan Center, the Rams handed the Minutemen an 89-77 defeat, still the team’s worst loss of the season.

“We tried hard that game but it’s the one game we’ve played probably all year where we just played. We didn’t play to win,” head coach Frank Martin said. “There was some indecision with how we played and the aggression we played with. And since we’ve been in league play, it’s the only game we played where coming into the last media timeout, we weren’t really in a place to win the game.”

Rhode Island benefitted in that first matchup from an otherworldly shooting performance. Archie Miller’s squad has been solid from three all season, shooting at a 35.9 percent clip, but it’s safe to say that its 14-of-23 performance from deep will likely not be replicated Sunday.

Still, the Minutemen will need to key into the Rams’ two leading scorers, wings David Green and Jaden House. As a two-time transfer from Hofstra and Louisiana Tech, Green wasn’t eligible to play for Rhode Island until late December. Since entering the lineup, though, Green has been a major offensive weapon for the Rams, and the 6-foot-7 forward now leads the team in scoring with 15.6 points per game. While the junior cooled off after his 24-point performance against UMass, he’s heated up again recently, and will enter Sunday scoring 20+ in each of Rhode Island’s last three contests.

House has been a steady presence for the Rams as a combo guard who arrived in Kingston this past offseason via High Point, North Carolina. The junior has started all 23 games for Rhode Island and averaging 15 points and 3.6 rebounds on 47.5 percent shooting.

“We got to do a better job on [Green and House],” Martin said. “They drove us and we struggled defending them off the bounce.”

To secure a victory, the Minutemen will need a strong bounce-back performance from Josh Cohen. Against St. Bonaventure on Wednesday, the senior big had his worst performance in a UMass uniform, finishing with just four points on 2-of-8 shooting. However, of the Rams’ three rotation players 6-foot-9 and taller, only one (Tyson Brown) has a positive defensive box plus minus. Cohen scored 23 points in January’s meeting, and a similar output is expected from him on Sunday.

Another key piece for the Minutemen is forward Matt Cross. Due to oral surgery, Cross missed games in January, one of which was the away trip to Rhode Island.

“Matt wanted to play [against Rhode Island] and during the course of the day, us adults all connected and agreed that the best thing to do was, kind of not let him play,” Martin said. “Matt understood that and he was at peace with it.”

The Rams allow 43.2 percent of opponents’ points to come off close twos, the second-highest percentage in the A-10. With Cross, Cohen and guard Keon Thompson’s noses for the basket, expect UMass to continue to emphasize drives to the rim and post play on offense.

Despite different results in its non-conference slates, both teams find themselves in similar spots entering Sunday. The Rams and Minutemen both are 5-5 in A-10 play, fighting for a top-six finish in the conference. Both teams are in their second seasons with well-established coaches, both of whom struggled in their first go-round with two New England state schools.

“They were really frustrated after the [St. Bonaventure] game, rightfully so,” Martin said. They left it on the court and that hurts when you do that…But at the same time, you understand that you got another day to live and fight and get better.”

Back in the Mullins Center, UMass will look to create a slice of separation between themselves and Rhode Island, getting back to its winning ways. Tipoff is at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 10 on the USA Network.

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

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