UMass basketball: Winners of three of their last four, Minutemen look to keep momentum going against St. Bonaventure

Josh Cohen (23), left, and Matt Cross have the UMass men’s basketball team in solid footing ahead of Saturday’s huge game against St. Bonaventure.

Josh Cohen (23), left, and Matt Cross have the UMass men’s basketball team in solid footing ahead of Saturday’s huge game against St. Bonaventure. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

By THOMAS JOHNSTON

Staff Writer

Published: 02-23-2024 2:27 PM

The UMass men’s basketball team found a good time to play its best basketball of the season. 

The Minutemen have won three of their last four contests, with Tuesday’s victory over VCU certainly checking in as one of their best victories of the season. UMass controlled the game from start-to-finish, racing out to a 17-2 lead and holding a double-digit lead throughout. 

St. Bonaventure heads to the Mullins Center on Saturday, looking to slow down the charging Minutemen. Tip-off for the Atlantic 10 showdown is scheduled for 2:30 p.m and will be broadcast on USA Network. 

The Bonnies (16-10, 7-7 A-10) played UMass (17-9, 8-6) earlier this month and rallied in the second half for a 79-73 victory. 

“We’re getting ready to play a team that beat us up in the post the last time we played,” Minutemen coach Frank Martin said. “They kept throwing it in there, got us in bad foul trouble and we never had an answer for their post guys. It’s going to be a physical game. They’re a physical team. They play from the post which hurt us last time. We have to make sure we’re prepared for that.”

Martin is referencing the play of Charles Venning and Noel Brown, St. Bonaventure’s big men. Venning scored 15 points and pulled down seven rebounds while Brown tossed in eight points off the bench. 

Josh Cohen, UMass’ center, was held to just four points and three rebounds in the contest. Since that game, Cohen has been playing some of his best basketball of the season and will be called upon to step up on Saturday. 

“We got outplayed at the center spot pretty bad,” Martin said. “I’m not into ranking good games or bad games but that might have been Josh’s worst game of the year. Not just with the way he performed but his approach. He’s been a lot different since that game and we need him to play like he has these last four games.”

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One key for the Minutemen on Saturday will be limiting turnovers. Not that that isn’t a key every game, but St. Bonaventure is one of the best teams in the A-10 at converting turnovers into points. 

In the first matchup against the Bonnies, UMass turned the ball over 12 times and Bonaventure turned those into 20 points. 

“I thought our perimeter defense was good for most of the game,” Martin said. “They lead the league in converting turnovers to points. We had some bad turnovers that they converted into easy baskets. Late in the game [Charles] Pride and [Mika] Adams-Woods made some shots for them. I thought that came as an inability to deal with their inside game. We became so help-conscious that those guys took advantage. We have to be better.”

While the focus will be on the defensive end of the court for the Minutemen on Saturday, Martin shouldn’t have to worry much about his offense based on how it’s been playing. 

UMass leads the A-10 in points per game as a team, averaging 79.9 per contest. It’s managed to do that despite sitting 14th in the league in 3-point percentage (.317), showcasing the athleticism, speed and craftiness UMass uses to get baskets. 

The Minutemen also lead the A-10 in offensive rebounds per game (13.5), working hard to get extra scoring chances. 

“Pace and good players,” Martin said when asked how his team is leading the conference in scoring. “I’ve been happy all year with our decision-making and how they’ve embraced the structure. I tell players all the time that my job as a coach is to create structure that fits the personnel. Their job is to learn the structure so I can give them freedoms within the structure. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that offensively this year. I think our staff has done a good job of teaching and creating a style that fits the players on our team. The players have been great from being aggressive and understanding.”

UMass is also an unselfish team offensively. The Minutemen are second in the A-10 in assists per game (16.19), with Keon Thompson (77), Matt Cross (74), Rahsool Diggins (60), Jayden Ndjigue (57) and Jaylen Curry (55) having the top assist totals on the season. 

With so many players capable of distributing the ball, UMass is able to play with pace, get out in transition and get easy buckets out of it. 

“We’ve been pretty good not turning the ball over.” Martin said. “We’ve had some games where our turnovers get into the teens but for the most part, we’ve taken care of the ball. We also take good shots. When you do those things, good things happen. I like playing fast and aggressive. That’s a representation of players who are locked in with what we’re asking and players who are good players with scoring and passing the ball to each other.”