Everything seemed to be business as usual for the No. 21 Massachusetts men's basketball team as it prepared for its game against Eastern Michigan on Tuesday, which is exactly what it needed.
UMass point guard charges toward the hoop during the Maroon and White's victory over Boston College
Already with an ever-increasing pressure of being nationally relevant again, playing their first game as a ranked team in 15 years and their first true road game of the season on their plate, the last thing the Minutemen needed were distractions.
Then, as the team departed its hotel for the Convocation Center, it hit a bump in the road – literally.
“We got on the bus to pull out and it just wouldn't move,” UMass point guard Chaz Williams said. “It was rumbling and making noises and stuff like that.
“I said, 'Hey, we need to get off this bus before it blows up,'” he joked.
Confusion ensued as the team sat on the bus, waiting to make its next move.
“I was like, 'What the heck was that?'” sophomore center Tyler Bergantino said of the sounds coming from the bus. “Me and Seth (Berger) actually looked at each other, we're like, 'What?' So I guess they tried cranking it up and tried moving it, but I guess it wouldn't work.”
Indeed, the bus was broken down, and the team had to explore new options in order to get to the arena.
Eventually, five taxis arrived to save the day. The Minutemen piled into them and got to the arena safe and sound – albeit later than they expected – but ultimately came away with a 69-57 victory over the Eagles to improve to 7-0.
It might not have been possible without a little speech from UMass coach Derek Kellogg, either, who used the travel delay to his advantage.
“He was just saying, something along the lines of, you know, we've got a broken down bus, but it doesn't matter,” Bergantino recalled. “We just have to stick together and be a brotherhood, and we're going to take the taxis there and we're going to handle business just like if the buses were working. He said it with all of his fire and energy so it just automatically pumped us all up.”
Chalk it up as the latest example of the Minutemen's “brotherhood” getting stronger.
There were no such travel problems on Friday as the Minutemen arrived in Springfield to prepare for their highly anticipated matchup against Brigham Young, which is set for a 1:30 p.m. tipoff Saturday at the MassMutual Center.
The Cougars (7-2) are riding high after a 30-point victory over North Texas on Tuesday, and the Minutemen will be their third ranked opponent of the young season, having already lost to then-No. 21 Iowa State and then-No. 12 Wichita State.
Despite those missed opportunities, though, BYU will offer a good test for UMass. The Cougars were picked to finish second in the West Coast Conference and have the horses to keep up with anyone in the country with their high-tempo playing style under coach Dave Rose.
Here a few things to watch for in Saturday's game, which is expected to be close to a sellout at the MassMutual Center:
Speed will kill, but defense just as important: As alluded to, BYU ranks up there as one of the fastest teams in the country. The Cougars live on the fast break and are susceptible to taking a high volume of shots every game. They rank ninth in the country with 89.2 points per game and attempt over 64 shots per game.
As such, this game could certainly resemble a track meet, as both UMass (81.6 points per game) and BYU score at a high rate and like to push the tempo. But that doesn't mean the Minutemen haven't been stressing getting back on defense against the Cougars this week in practice.
“It's better that you play defense early, because they're trying to score,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “This team is attacking, from the minute the ball goes up to the second the game ends, they're coming at you, so defensively we have to be alert and aware every second of the game.”
Senior forward Raphiael Putney, who has been matching up with the opponent's best scorer often in recent games, echoed those sentiments.
“We can score as many points as they can, so we just have to come focused on defense and take care of business,” he said.
Chaz Williams vs. Matt Carlino: Chaz Williams is no stranger to exciting point guard matchups, and this one is sure to fit the bill.
Saturday's matchup will pit Williams against BYU junior Matt Carlino, who has proven to be a force early this season. He's second on the team with 17.4 points per game and has scored in double figures in all but one game, that being in Tuesday's win over North Texas, where he still filled out the stat sheet with 10 rebounds and 11 assists.
“He's just a player,” Williams said. “He takes what the defense gives him, and he likes to play ball. He's a good player so you have to pay him respect.”
Another Kellogg homecoming: The Minutemen are back in Springfield, which means another homecoming for Kellogg, who grew up there and starred at Springfield Cathedral before going to UMass.
The Minutemen are 6-1 at the MassMutual Center during Kellogg's tenure as head coach, including last year's overtime win over Elon. This season's game in Springfield could also prove to be even more special to Kellogg considering the recent national attention his team has received.
“I think it's special,” Kellogg said. “People are excited about the team and program. I think we can bring a little pop to downtown Springfield for a day, which is something I always like to do.”
Probable starters: Based on previous lineups, here are the projected starting lineups for Saturday's game:
*G Kyle Collinsworth, So.: 11.9 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 5.7 APG, 1.6 SPG
*G Matt Carlino, Jr.: 17.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.1 SPG
*G Tyler Haws, Jr.: 23.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG
*F Eric Mika, Fr.: 13.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG
*F Nate Austin, Jr.: 4.8 PPG, 9.1 RPG
*G Chaz Williams, Sr.: 15.4 PPG, 6.6 APG, 1.4 SPG
*G Derrick Gordon, So.: 11.0 PPG, 1.7 SPG
*F Raphiael Putney, Sr.: 12.3 PPG, 5.9 RPG
*F Sampson Carter, Sr.: 12.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG
*C Cady Lalanne, Jr.: 16.4 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 2.7 BPG
Where to catch the game: The game will be nationally televised on CBS Sports Network. You can also hear it on the radio on 105.5 FM WEEI (Springfield), 1440 AM WVEI (Worcester) and 95.9 FM WATD (South Shore). I will also be in Springfield for the game, so you can also follow along with me on Twitter for updates and commentary @steve_hewitt.
Have a UMass basketball question for Steve Hewitt? Send him a tweet @steve_hewitt or send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and it could appear in an upcoming mailbag.
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