Minutemen basketball return home to face Rams
The Massachusetts men's basketball team is returning home on Sunday afternoon after a week that featured travel woes, practice in an airport with a shoe instead of a ball and a win against Atlantic 10-opponent St. Bonaventure.
Now that the smoke has cleared, UMass returns back to the Mullins Center with a victory under its belt following a surreal experience on the flight out to SBU. The delayed landing left them practicing in an airport with a shoe, and out of their usual routine.
"It could have been easy for it to be a distraction," senior guard Anthony Gurley said, "but myself and my teammates, we really showed that we were focused."
This Sunday at 4 p.m., the Minutemen (12-7, 4-2 A-10) will focus on traditional rival Rhode Island in a heated contest that'll pit two very similar teams against each other.
The Rams (13-7, 4-2 A-10) enter the Mullins Center with a near-identical record as UMass, and are one spot above them in the A-10 table.
Three of URI's four conference wins came in a streak right towards the end of the winter break as the Rams toppled Richmond, the Bonnies and Saint
Joseph's all within a week's span. The contests against the Spiders and the Hawks were both away, giving URI a 3-0 record in all its road games.
While the Rams are boasting an undefeated road record in the conference, the Minutemen are 1-1 for home conference games this season. Before conference play began however, UMass suffered three-straight losses at the Mullins Center.
Part of the reason the Rams have been off to this hot conference start is due to senior forward Delroy James, who just recently scored 21 points (12 in the second half) in URI's 59-57 win against Saint Louis.
The Minutemen will be eyeing James quite closely in the upcoming contest, as he averages 17.7 points per game along with near eight rebounds per contest.
While the Rams boast James and senior guard Marquis Jones (10.7 points per game), UMass will likely rely on its traditional high scorer, Gurley, who has led the Minutemen in scoring for 17 of their first 19 games.
UMass will be looking for Gurley to repeat his performance from last season's meeting between these two teams, when the senior guard scored all of his 15 points in the final three-plus minutes of UMass' 93-85 loss to URI.
These 15 points by Gurley came after a 36-minute struggle for the Minutemen, and were the surge for a comeback that limited a 24-point Rams lead down to as little as six points.
"We can't have him not play the way he played at the end for a whole game," Kellogg reflected after the URI game last season. "I don't think we have enough fire power, we're not good enough."
Despite his strong performance in last season's meeting, after the SBU game on Wednesday, Gurley called the upcoming contest against a URI a "tough game."
Although Gurley is always a threat, if the Maroon and White's last competition against SBU is any indication, others like Javorn Farrell and Gary Correia will need to step up.
Against the Bonnies, Farrell earned 16 points, while Correia had six points with two steals on the defensive end of the floor.
For most of the statistical categories in the A-10, URI and the Minutemen are at a near deadlock, except for 3-point field goal defense, which the Rams lead with just over 30 percent allowed from beyond the arc.
Conversely, the Minutemen rest at the pit of 3-point field goal percentage rankings, scoring over 28 percent of their attempted 3-pointers.
URI's top 3-point defense mixed with the ailing UMass 3-point offense could limit the capabilities of top shooter Freddie Riley, who lurks from beyond the arc.
Meanwhile, the Minutemen rank fourth in the A-10 for offensive boards (URI is seventh), and averages less than a percent higher than the Rams for defensive rebounds.
Sean and Sampson Carter will look to continue their rebounding ways, as they earned eight and nine rebounds, respectively, against the Bonnies on Wednesday night.
No matter what Sunday afternoon holds for UMass, the team will have Saint Louis and SJU to compete with next, both of which are away games.
In a long college basketball season with a young, developing team, adversity can either bring out the best or the worst in players. For the Massachusetts men's basketball team, it was the former as it overcame an unusual road trip to defeat St. Bonaventure on Wednesday night.
UMass coach Derek Kellogg saw the victory as more than just the second straight road Atlantic 10 win; he saw it as a sign that his team might be maturing and handling pressure better.
"I hope that it shows we're maturing some, but tomorrow's practice they could act immature again and then I'll be feeling differently," Kellogg said after the win.
"It's just weird in college coaching, your highs and lows, your ebbs and flows of your team go from one extreme to the other sometimes. You try to get away from that where it's more steady and then they play well or the way you want them to more often."
Before one of their most significant games of the season, the Minutemen (12-7, 4-2 A-10) were forced to make an emergency landing on Tuesday night en route to St. Bonaventure.
After smoke was seen in the cockpit of the plane, flight attendants informed the passengers that an emergency landing was necessary.
For the UMass players, including senior guard Anthony Gurley, it was a surreal experience.
"It was pretty scary," Gurley said after the win against the Bonnies. "You never know what's going on when you're that high in the air so it's not easy to not panic."
Despite arriving in Olean, N.Y., the home of St. Bonaventure, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, the Minutemen didn't let the change in routine affect them that night.
"It could have been easy for it to be a distraction but myself and my teammates really showed that we were focused," Gurley said. "We tried not to let the adversity that we were facing get in the way of what we had to do."
Gurley scored 28 points on 9-for-17 shooting to help UMass win 78-69. Sophomore Javorn Farrell chipped in 16 points in the victory as the Minutemen shot 52.7 percent for the contest.
The defense, meanwhile, held the Bonnies to under 36 percent from the field while claiming a 39-32 edge in rebounding.
"This is a tough environment and the last couple days haven't really been easy for us," Gurley said. "We just stuck together as a family and as a team and we came out with the win."
The victory gives UMass 12 wins in just its 19th contest this year, which matches its season win total for each of the past two years. In the A-10, the
Minutemen are taking care of business, defeating teams who are not in the top tier of the league. Their two conference losses this year have come to NCAA tournament-caliber programs in Xavier and Richmond.
With their win total, UMass has all but secured a spot in the postseason, something which it struggled to obtain in Kellogg's first two seasons.
Nevertheless, the Minutemen have tough opponents still remaining on the schedule and will have to continue maturing if they plan on making a case to play deep into March.