UMass basketball: Road games for Minutemen (Rhode Island) and Minutewomen (La Salle) on tap Saturday

UMass’ Daniel Hankins-Sanford (1) will likely see an increased role against Rhode Island on Saturday, as the Minutemen travel to the Ryan Center for a 2 p.m. tip.

UMass’ Daniel Hankins-Sanford (1) will likely see an increased role against Rhode Island on Saturday, as the Minutemen travel to the Ryan Center for a 2 p.m. tip. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 01-12-2024 5:48 PM

Modified: 01-12-2024 5:48 PM


The second Atlantic 10 road trip of the season awaits the UMass men’s basketball team this weekend. After handing La Salle a 16-point loss on Wednesday at the Mullins Center, the Minutemen head to the Ryan Center to battle rival Rhode Island on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. (ESPN-Plus).

UMass didn’t escape Wednesday’s game against the Explorers unscathed, however, as Matt Cross went down late in the second half with a left ankle injury. He did not return, and head coach Frank Martin said on Thursday that he would have a better idea of where Cross was at on Friday.

As of Friday evening, the latest update on Cross was that he is questionable to play against the Rams. To make matters worse, Cross is still dealing with a tooth he chipped early in the Dayton game last Sunday.

“His ankle, it’s just a regular sprain,” Martin said on Thursday. “There’s not a lot of swelling… He’s also having issues with that tooth he broke, that he snapped in half. He’s just physically beat up right now.”

The majority of Martin’s game preparation in the latter stages of the week was likely geared toward a scenario where Cross doesn’t play, just to make sure the Minutemen are prepared for all possibilities.

Given how sophomore forward Daniel Hankins-Sanford has played over the past few weeks, Martin is comfortable tossing him into the starting lineup to take Cross’ spot. Hankins-Sanford is averaging 8 points and 8 rebounds per game over the Minutemen’s last four contests, and his defensive energy – protecting the rim and playing aggressively in the passing lanes – has created several transition breakouts for UMass.

“The simple thing is slide Dan into the four, and that gives us some consistency with some of the things we’ve been trying to run offensively and some of the strategies defensively,” Martin said. “The question is what happens after that? The simple solution is play Jayden at the four some and Dan at the five some, which we’ve done this year… Rhode Island is a team that plays really, really physical at the four spot. So you can’t just throw a regular guard in there and play a four-guard lineup. We’ll figure it out.”

Well, Martin answered his own question talking about what happens after, and who would take Hankins-Sanford’s minutes off the bench.

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That would be either of the two freshmen bigs, Mathok Majok or Tyler Mason. And if Cohen or Hankins-Sanford get into foul trouble, perhaps both of the freshmen will have to play increased roles. The only problem with Mason is that he just joined the team about a month ago.

“When you’re 14, 15 games into it like we are right now, it’s hard to throw a guy that’s been on campus for two and a half, three weeks into the mix in the middle of a conference game,” Martin said. “That’s a hard decision for a coach to make, because it’s the first time that young man’s gonna touch the court… I got no choice. I gotta prepare myself to play Tyler or Mathok, either one.”

Again, this only comes in to play if Cross is unable to go.

As for Rhode Island (8-7, 2-0 A-10), the Rams struggled to get through their non-conference slate losing five of their last six out-of-league games. But since then, Rhode Island is winners of three straight, including its first two Atlantic 10 contests – defeating Saint Joseph’s and Davidson.

URI’s recent success has a lot to do with junior forward David Green receiving eligibility to play. He missed the team’s first 12 games, and has since averaged 12 points and five rebounds in three games – all wins for the Rams.

Head coach Archie Miller is still figuring out his team, which, similarly to UMass, is full of newcomers, but he’s seemed to have found a rotation that works well for him of late. One of Rhode Island’s starting forwards, David Fuchs, also missed time dealing with a concussion, but is back in full swing for the Rams.

“Archie’s gonna win at Rhode Island, he’s won everywhere he’s been,” Martin said. “It just takes time, and he’s got a brand new team. His team’s been healthy now for three or four games, and they’re playing really well. He’s got them playing at a high, high level right now. They’re defending really well, and offensively they’re flying around and playing with unbelievable confidence.”

With UMass (11-4, 2-1 A-10) coming in uncertain about its best player’s status, the Minutemen will have to play their style of ball on the road in a tough environment – just as the did against Dayton. UMass needs to out-rebound, out-hustle, and out-muscle the Rams – a team much better than their record shows.

Those traits are staples in a Frank Martin basketball team.

“We preach it, we coach it, we emphasize it, we demand it,” Martin said. “It’s a big part of all my teams, my whole career... It’s part of who we are. When we don’t rebound, I’m usually not in a very good mood. And the players know that. Rebounding is an effort play, and if you’re not willing to give effort, then your team’s not any good.”

Minutewomen head to Philly for matchup with La Salle

The UMass women's basketball team will look to get back in the win column on Saturday, when it travels to Philadelphia to take on La Salle at 3 p.m. 

The Minutewomen (3-13, 1-3 Atlantic 10) are still searching for their first win away from the Mullins Center, as they're currently 0-7 on the road and 0-3 at neutral sites. 

The Explorers (5-10, 2-2) offer UMass the chance to get that first victory. La Salle went on an eight-game losing skid midway through the season but has won its last two games, a 64-53 victory over Fordham last Sunday and a 75-71 triumph over St. Bonaventure on Wednesday. 

In terms of team statistics, there isn't much differentiating UMass and the Explorers this year. The Minutewomen are averaging 59.8 points per game to La Salle's 61.3. The UMass defense is giving up 74.4 points per game while the Explorers are giving up 73.1. 

Both the Minutewomen and La Salle have been hurt by their lack of 3-point shooting. UMass sits last in the A-10 by making just 28 percent of its 3's while the Explorers are just one spot higher, making a mere 29 percent of their 3's. Whoever can knock down some shots from deep will have a big advantage on Saturday. 

Nicole Melious (9.9 ppg) and Molly Masciantonio (9.5 ppg) have been La Salle's most consistent scoring options this year and will be who the Minutewomen have to key in on to earn a victory.