When the dust finally cleared and Richmond's students were finished rushing the court, the No. 13 Massachusetts men's basketball team could finally look ahead to going home for good after its 58-55 loss to the Spiders on Wednesday night, which completed a physically tolling three-game road stretch.
(Photo courtesy Maria Uminski, Massachusetts Daily Collegian)
But the trip home was anything but cheerful. The Minutemen departed back home on a charter flight immediately after the game, and the mood was as dull as you could imagine.
“Nobody was really talking,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “It was humbling and quiet. I don't think anyone was doing any somersaults by any stretch.”
The loss was just the Minutemen's (16-2, 3-1 Atlantic 10) second this season, but still a setback for a team that's more or less been comfortable winning games, especially those where it seemed a loss was certain before it somehow pulled together a comeback victory.
On Wednesday, though, that late-game magic that seemed to have been programmed into this team's DNA finally ran out. UMass narrowed a seven-point deficit with less than four minutes to go down to one, but couldn't get over the hump. It was a rare loss, one that undoubtedly stung as the team left the Robins Center victims of an upset.
“Losses bother us as a team and program, and it's one of those ones where it's hanging there a little bit and we want to get that away from us,” Kellogg said.
“It's a long year,” Kellogg continued. “I didn't think we'd go undefeated. You have to bounce back from games.”
Luckily for the Minutemen, who were forced to think about their first loss of the season (Dec. 21 vs. Florida State) for a week before they could get a chance at getting back in the win column, they'll have that chance a little bit quicker this time around. UMass welcomes Fordham at noon on Sunday afternoon in front of what's expected to be a sellout crowd at the Mullins Center.
The Rams (8-10, 1-4) sit near the bottom of the conference standings, but enter Sunday's matchup with a little bit of confidence after they ended their six-game losing streak with a 76-70 win over George Mason on Wednesday.
It's been another year of rough sledding for fourth-year coach Tom Pecora, who coached UMass point guard Chaz Williams during his freshman year at Hofstra, but Fordham already has more wins this year than it did last season altogether.
Here are some things to watch for as we await tip between the Minutemen and Rams:
MATCHING STYLES: One of the UMass' Achilles' heels in its loss to Richmond was its inability to get out and run in transition. The Spiders did a good job of controlling pace and holding the Minutemen to a season-low 55 points on a low number of possessions.
Sunday's matchup with Fordham presents a better opportunity for UMass to play its style. The Rams like to get the ball moving quickly and put up a high volume of shots – led by freshman guard Jon Severe, who alone averages 17.8 shot attempts per game and 8.8 3-point attempts per game. Severe is tied for third in the country with Creighton's Doug McDermott with 321 total shot attempts this season.
There is, however, a wrinkle in Fordham's style that could give the Minutemen problems. The Rams start four guards and one big man, which will force UMass' bigger bodies to run a little bit more and match up with smaller players across the floor.
“They play untraditional, which always scares you,” Kellogg said. “A lot of our bigger guys are going to have to cover on the floor and make some plays out on the perimeter. We'll have to adjust as the game goes on and make sure we're ready for long rebounds and get back in transition and doing the things that we have to do to cover a four-guard offense.”
FRAZIER & SEVERE: Of Fordham's plethora of guards, the most explosive ones are senior Branden Frazier and Severe, who together have combined 39 points per game – the Rams average 74.9 per game.
Both Frazier and Severe are coming off big games against the Patriots. Severe scored 21 points while Frazier scored all 22 of his points in the second half to lead Fordham to the comeback win.
“I always loved the kid Branden Frazier, I thought he's been one of the better guards in our conference,” Kellogg said. “And now he has a running mate in Jon Severe, which gives them I think the highest scoring combination in our conference.”
LAST TIME THEY MET: UMass won its last meeting against Fordham in a 77-73 victory over the Rams at Rose Hill Gym in New York last season. Chaz Williams scored a game-high 22 points and added seven assists in the win. Freddie Riley's 3-pointer with 34 seconds left and Trey Davis' clutch free throws – in his first game of increased playing time after Jesse Morgan was lost for the season – ultimately clinched the victory.
PROBABLE STARTERS: Based on previous lineups, here are the projected starters for Sunday's game.
*G Chaz Williams, Sr.: 15.8 PPG, 7.3 APG, 1.4 SPG
*G Derrick Gordon, So.: 8.6 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.6 SPG
*F Raphiael Putney, Sr.: 10.6 PPG, 4.8 RPG
*F Sampson Carter, Sr.: 11.2 PPG, 4.9 RPG
*C Cady Lalanne, Jr.: 14.0 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.4 BPG
*G Branden Frazier, Sr.: 18.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.3 APG, 1.2 SPG
*G Jon Severe, Fr.: 20.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG
*G Bryan Smith, Jr.: 6.8 PPG, 5.1 RPG
*G Mandell Thomas, Jr.: 12.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.2 SPG
*F Ryan Rhoomes, So.: 7.7 PPG, 7.9 RPG
WHERE TO CATCH THE GAME: This game is sold out, but if you don't have a ticket to the game you have plenty of options. NBC Sports Network (Channel finder | Stream online) is carrying the game on TV. As usual, you can also hear the game on the radio on 105.5 FM WEEI (Springfield), 1440 AM WVEI (Worcester) and 95.9 FM WATD (South Shore). If all else fails, I will also be in attendance for this one, so shoot me a follow on Twitter for updates and commentary.
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