UMass basketball: League-leading, defensive-minded Richmond next for Minutemen

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 02-13-2024 2:49 PM

As has been said for the last three games, the next one marks the UMass men’s basketball team’s most important game to date on the calendar.

Every game from here on out – given the current state of the Atlantic 10 – is the most important one.

UMass (15-8) is currently tied for fifth in the conference with Saint Joseph’s at 6-5, and just a game behind them is Rhode Island, George Mason and St. Bonaventure at 5-6. Sitting two games out of a top four seed (which includes a double bye in the A-10 tournament), each win for the Minutemen is vital.

Their next test is certainly the toughest since heading to Dayton back in early January. UMass travels down to Virginia to take on league-leading Richmond. After Dayton’s loss at VCU over the weekend, the Spiders took sole possession of first place at 9-1.

The Minutemen’s conference woes on the road have been apparent, as they’ve won just one of five bouts away from home in Atlantic 10 play. The task to rid those struggles is as tall as it could be with Richmond.

The Spiders (17-6) are led by senior point guard Jordan King, who is one of the conference’s most prolific scorers at nearly 19 points per game. King has seven games of 24 or more points and he only has one game scoring less than 10 points. On top of the high scoring output, his shooting splits are 48-43-80 – meaning King not only fills it up, he does so with elite-level efficiency.

“It’s a team that play completely different than the team we just played (Rhode Island) offensively,” UMass head coach Frank Martin said of the Spiders. “They’ve got a high level scoring guard (King). [Head coach] Chris Mooney, they play through the Princeton concepts so there’s going to be a whole lot of back cuts and old-fashioned UCLA screens and big men stepping out and cutting back to the basket. Defensively, we’re going to get challenged because we’ve got to prepare for a different style of basketball.”

Similar to UMass, Richmond has two studs in its frontcourt that get it done on both ends of the floor. The Minutemen duo of Josh Cohen and Matt Cross are sure to have their hands full with Spiders center Neal Quinn (12 points, six rebounds per game) and forward Isaiah Bigelow (11 points, seven rebounds).

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Richmond is elite defensively, checking in at No. 31 in the country in KenPom’s defensive efficiency rating – tops in the Atlantic 10. It’ll be a battle of conflicting styles as UMass tries to get out and run while Richmond will slow tempo and try and limit possessions.

“[Mooney] gets a bad rap that they play slow,” Martin said. “I don’t think they play slow, but we like to play fast. And if you play too fast against them, then they put you in a grinder defensively and get you to the end of the [shot] clock. So you have to make sure to attack offensively and not settle for bad shots.”

The Spiders started the year 5-5 but have ripped off a 12-1 stretch in their last 13 games. The lone loss came at VCU on Feb. 3, but wins during that span have come against Dayton, St. Bonaventure, George Mason and Loyola-Chicago.

Last year, UMass won the regular season meeting in Amherst, 85-76, but suffered a blowout loss in the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Brooklyn, 71-38. The Minutemen are 2-9 in their last 11 meetings with the Spiders, and haven’t won on the road in the series since Jan. 21, 2012.

Tip-off for Wednesday’s game at the Robins Center is slated for 7 p.m. (ESPN-Plus), with the opening line favoring Richmond by 3½ points.

Minutewomen host Rhody Wednesday night

While the Minutemen hit the road, the Minutewomen (3-22, 1-12 A-10) look to hold down the Mullins Center as Rhode Island heads to Amherst on Wednesday night at 6 p.m. A loss would make it a dozen consecutive defeats for UMass.

A few weeks ago, the Minutewomen lost by 15 at Rhode Island after being out-scored by 10 in the second half, which seems to be the recurring theme. UMass has been able to stick around and play teams tough through the game’s first 20 minutes, but can’t sustain that for an entire four quarters.

The Rams (15-11, 7-6) are, however, coming into Wednesday’s matchup riding a skid of their own. Rhode Island has dropped its last three contests, most recently a three-point loss to Saint Louis over the weekend.

This is the perfect time for UMass to pick up a win against a reeling conference foe. But the Minutewomen are going to have to stop four double-digit per-game scorers, led by Maya Toure and Teisha Hyman.

UMass is hoping to gain some much-needed momentum over these last few weeks of the regular season to carry into the A-10 tournament.