UMass basketball: Minutemen hammer UMass Lowell, improve to 5-2

UMass forward Matt Cross (33) dribbles to the basket past UMass Lowell’s Quinton Mincey (3) during the Minutemen’s 91-77 victory on Saturday at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

UMass forward Matt Cross (33) dribbles to the basket past UMass Lowell’s Quinton Mincey (3) during the Minutemen’s 91-77 victory on Saturday at the Mullins Center in Amherst. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

UMass’ Rahsool Diggins (3), right, looks to make a pass against UMass Lowell during the Minutemen’s 91-77 victory on Saturday at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

UMass’ Rahsool Diggins (3), right, looks to make a pass against UMass Lowell during the Minutemen’s 91-77 victory on Saturday at the Mullins Center in Amherst. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

UMass’ Robert Davis Jr. (4) pulls up for a jumper while defended by UMass Lowell’s Quinton Mincey (3) during the Minutemen’s 91-77 victory on Saturday at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

UMass’ Robert Davis Jr. (4) pulls up for a jumper while defended by UMass Lowell’s Quinton Mincey (3) during the Minutemen’s 91-77 victory on Saturday at the Mullins Center in Amherst. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 12-09-2023 5:07 PM

Modified: 12-09-2023 5:09 PM


AMHERST — For the second time this season, the UMass men’s basketball team responded to a loss in style.

After dropping a road game to Towson on Wednesday, the Minutemen completely flushed that from their system as they led by as many as 28 points in a dominant 91-77 victory over UMass Lowell on Saturday afternoon at the Mullins Center. It was a similar result to their blowout win over Central Connecticut State after an overtime loss to Harvard back in November.

An 18-4 River Hawks run to end the game made the score look more respectable, but UMass controlled the game from the moment it took its first lead of the game – 20-17 courtesy a Keon Thompson three-pointer – with 9:02 remaining in the first half.

“We just didn't play well enough to win [against Towson], but I loved the lesson,” UMass head coach Frank Martin said. “And they were excited about fixing the stuff we did wrong. So I expected us to play well today and give the guys credit. Lowell, just like Towson, has a winning pedigree to them… We separated from them in the game. We played with a purpose offensively and defensively. And when you do that, whether you win or lose, you got to be proud of your guys.”

That Thompson bucket was part of a 24-7 spurt that catapulted UMass ahead by 14. During that stretch, Josh Cohen tallied 10 of his 25 points in what was yet another monster performance from the senior. Cohen added 14 rebounds, four assists, four steals, and two blocks on 10-for-15 shooting in 31 minutes.

Cohen’s showing correlated to the Minutemen’s whopping output of 52 points in the paint, something they struggled mightily with a season ago. His addition to UMass’ roster has been critical, and Cohen should have his way in the Atlantic 10 – a conference typically known for its guard play.

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“It's a credit to him and our team,” Martin said. “We don't have selfishness. So guys aren’t worrying about Josh getting the ball every time. We don’t have any of that stuff. Guys want to win. He’s a good player. They know the ball gets to Josh, good things happen… That's why our team has a chance this year. Josh is a good player. Our players respect him, and he allows me to coach him.”

Martin said before UMass had even played a game this season that if the Minutemen were going to be successful, it would be because their four most experienced players were leading the charge. Well, along with Cohen’s 25 (his second most in a game this year), Rahsool Diggins added 15 points (13 in the second half), six rebounds, and two steals, Matt Cross did a bit of everything with 14 points, six boards, and five assists, and Thompson chipped in 10 points, six assists, and three offensive rebounds.

Those four were the only players in double figures, but they did much more than just score. Due to their unselfish play, the Minutemen recorded 21 assists on their 35 made baskets, and worked the high-low between Cross and Cohen to perfection on several occasions.

“We kept pounding inside. Pounding,” Martin said. “We played intelligently, the ball moved. We scored on the interior and then the second half we had some steals, made layups. And then we made some threes because we collapsed them. It's a credit to our guys because we got a young team and they (the older guys) figured that one out.”

Even with so much pressure riding on the shoulders of Cohen, Cross, Diggins, and Thompson, the young players off the bench still have as important a job as anyone – especially when the starters get in foul trouble like they have in non-conference play. Those players off the bench were phenomenal against UMass Lowell on Saturday.

The Minutemen received 25 points from non-starters, including eight from Daniel Hankins-Sanford – who played 16 valuable minutes – and seven from Robert Davis Jr. who seems to finally have found his place out on the floor within this team. Jaylen Curry added six points of his own.

“I’m gonna play the guys that deserve to play,” Martin said. “And the personality of our team is going to have guys ready, so when their numbers called they don't act surprised because they've never been given a chance. So we take advantage of that of creating depth on our team, so we can hopefully try and wear people down.”

Through seven games, UMass has yet to shoot the ball well from beyond the arc. The Minutemen came in shooting just above 30 percent on the year, and 27.8 percent (5-for-18) on Saturday brought that clip down even more. If they can find in-rhythm looks for their shooters, this offense – which is already averaging 84 points per game – can be taken to another level.

“We were better today there than we were last game… [but] we didn't make a lot of threes,” Martin said. “Five, is that what we made? But it seemed like we made bang-bang, which helped us kind of set our defense and pop the game open.”

Although 77 points is more than Martin would have liked to give up, he knows the defensive effort was much improved from Wednesday. UMass forced 16 River Hawks turnovers, and capitalized with easy offense on the other end – scoring 21 points in transition.

The UMass defense, specifically from the starting group, hounded UMass Lowell. River Hawks leading scorer Ayinde Hikim came in averaging nearly 20 points per contest, yet the Minutemen held him to a porous 4-for-16 shooting and just 13 points. He also turned the ball over four times. UMass Lowell was without forward Abdoul Karim Coulibaly and his 13 points, seven rebounds a night, but that might not have mattered too much the way Cross and the front court played on that end of the floor.

“I wasn't happy with our first two defensive possessions because we gambled and we gave them open looks,” Martin said. “But [after] those two possessions, we got away from them. I thought our defense was was locked in and pretty good.”

UMass (5-2) has the week off before heading to Springfield to play in the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic against West Virginia at the MassMutual Center next Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on ESPNU, and the game is the second in a doubleheader that also includes St. Bonaventure against last year’s Final Four darling Florida Atlantic University (4 p.m.).