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

When knocked down, UMass men’s basketball is almost guaranteed to bounce back

With win at George Washington, Minutemen move to 9-1 on the season following a loss
Jonathan Shi
Daily Collegian (2023)

Every time the Massachusetts men’s basketball team gets knocked down, it stands right back up.

UMass (18-10, 9-7 Atlantic 10) followed a costly loss against St. Bonaventure with a mostly dominant win at George Washington, 69-57. The Minutemen are now 9-1 after a loss this season, only losing multiple games in a row once throughout the year (a buzzer-beating loss at Loyola Chicago), and winning by 15.7 points on average following a loss. Plenty of resiliency and mental fortitude has allowed the young group to play above its level of experience.

“Really proud of our guys after a disheartening loss that left them, me, my staff, we were hollow after that loss to St. Bonaventure, because of how much our guys have sacrificed to put themselves in a position to play such a relevant game on Saturday, and then have to pack your bags and travel,” head coach Frank Martin said. “Really proud of our guys. They handled the preparation phase in a positive way. Instead of moping and pouting because we lost the game, they took that moment and said, ‘You know what, we got to do a little better.'”

They showed it all in their performance at George Washington (14-14, 3-12 A-10): full dominance in the paint, outstanding defensive rotations and strong ball movement. Perhaps the only major thing lacking was full focus for 40 minutes, as the Minutemen didn’t pad the stats and let the Revolutionaries outscore them 36-29 in the second half when the game was already won. But on the bright side, UMass did more than enough to keep a strong lead for almost the entire game, which is something it has struggled with throughout the season. The visitors led by more than 20 up until the final five minutes.

What makes such an ability perhaps even more impressive is the new-look roster and the youth of the team. Leaders have had to grow into the role and freshmen had to grow up fast. Five of UMass’ eight rotation players are underclassmen, including two starters.

“Their character and their commitment to each other,” Martin said of the reasons behind the team’s ability to bounce back. “We don’t have guys that are running around self-promoting themselves or worried about how many points they scored. We got guys that want to win. They get along, it’s about us, not me. That’s on them. All I got to do is come in there and make sure that my message to them is consistent. We’ve been together now, so I’m starting to figure them out as people a little bit. So I got to push the right buttons to make sure that everybody is in the right space mentally, because with young teams you can get immature.

“They care. They care about UMass, they care about their teammates, they care about pleasing, they care about winning. They care about all the things before they care about themselves. From a coaching standpoint, when you get that, you can really, really challenge and build and see what happens,” he added.

That immaturity is noticeable when the Minutemen play with a lead, but the way they can get out of holes both when playing from behind and when rebounding from a loss is remarkable.

“It’s really easy to hang your head after you lose and you don’t play well,” Martin said. “It’s really hard to be proud and continue to do your job after losing and not playing well. Those guys answered the bell. That is straight character. That has nothing to do with me. That is young people that are all-in to take on challenges and continue to sacrifice for others and that’s who those guys are.”

Along with the 15.7 average margin of victory in bounce back wins, two of the Minutemen’s three road wins this year came after losses: at Saint Louis and now at George Washington. They become a formidable opponent following defeats, regardless of the game’s setting. The team’s most dominant performance of the year, a 74-52 win against VCU, came after a defeat at La Salle.

Players like Keon Thompson and Matt Cross have talked about never staying too high or low, and that mindset has proven true as the season ages and adversity hits.

On the contrary, UMass has an 8-9 record following a win. Is it a cause for concern that the Minutemen need losses to wake them up, or that they struggle to put together winning streaks? At the very least, following losses with wins is a good problem to have. It certainly doesn’t concern Martin.

“If we played bad in the losses then I’d say [it concerns me],” Martin said. “We’re playing good teams, and we’re battling our tails off … If we played bad, then I’d be worried about how we’re handling some things. But we’ve won 18, so losing is not something we do very often … We’ve guaranteed ourselves at least a .500 league record. We’re doing some things the right way and I’m excited to see what’s going to transpire here over the next 10, 12 days or so.”

UMass remains on the road for a matchup at Davidson on Saturday, March 2. Tipoff is set for 2:30 p.m. on USA Network.

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

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