Gut check time for UMass

For The Recorder
Friday, January 26, 2018

AMHERST — The UMass players got a full scouting report and all the other normal pregame information to be prepared for today’s 2 p.m. game at Fordham.

But coach Matt McCall was less concerned about how his team would handle Joseph Chartouny and company than he was about his own team.

The Minutemen (10-11, 3-5 Atlantic 10) have lost three straight games, all by 15 points or more. McCall is interested in his team’s character.

“This game is all coming down to a mindset. Who is playing harder for 40?” McCall said Thursday. “This is about how we respond. We’re going to find out a great deal about each and every individual as a competitor. We’re going to find out a lot about our team in the next 10 games. Who’s going to fight? Who’s going to compete? Who is going to come out swinging with our backs against the wall? That’s what it’s all about.

“I told them ‘Adversity is the greatest opportunity to grow. Whether we go 10-0 or 0-10 in the next 10 games, that’s what it’s all about. You guys have been through an enormous amount of adversity and there’s more coming,’” he continued. “They have to come together.”

McCall said his team likely isn’t as good as it was when it won three straight over Dayton, La Salle and Saint Joseph’s and not as bad as it has been in the last three.

I told the guys. “Two weeks ago you were on top of the world winning at Dayton with seven players and came back with two great games at home and everyone was telling you how great you are. Now all of a sudden, you’ve mightily struggled the last three games and got your teeth knocked and everyone is telling you how bad you are. There’s a balance in between, but your backs are against the wall. Who’s going to compete?”

McCall used a game during his tenure as an assistant coach at Florida as motivation recalling how Jake Kurtz, then a walk-on for the Gators and currently UMass’ director of basketball operations, came in and delivered a defensive effort that boosted Florida.

“This time of year, really good teams find different times to step up,” he said. “Winning is hard. There’s so much that goes into it. What we’re asking these guys to do every single day is a lot.”

At 1-7 (6-14 overall) the Rams are last in the Atlantic 10. They opened conference play at 1-1 with a loss to VCU and a win at Richmond and then dropped six straight and have only been within 15 once in those games.

Junior guard Chartouny, who has given UMass trouble in the past, leads Fordham in rebounds (5.7 per game) and assists (4.3) to go with his 10.9 points per game. Senior guard Will Tavares is the top scorer at 14.5 points per game.

Junior Prokop Slanina is the team’s top big man averaging 11.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.