UMass basketball: After disappointing loss, Minutemen head to George Washington in need of a win

UMass guard Keon Thompson (5) puts in a breakaway layup earlier this season at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

UMass guard Keon Thompson (5) puts in a breakaway layup earlier this season at the Mullins Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE


Staff Writer

Published: 02-26-2024 5:06 PM

Saturday was one of the those games that the UMass men’s basketball team had to win – regardless of by how much or how pretty it looked.

The biggest Mullins Center crowd (7,016) since 2015 was on hand as were a ton of alumni sitting courtside. The Minutemen had a real chance to prove to the UMass diehards that they were indeed as good as advertised.

But they laid an egg against St. Bonaventure, turning the ball over 14 times, getting outscored in the paint by 10 and out-rebounded by four. Saturday was one of UMass’ worst performances at home all season, and the players were well aware and took responsibility for that.

With VCU beating Saint Joseph’s on Sunday, the double bye in the Atlantic 1o is all but now an afterthought.

Head coach Frank Martin noted postgame that his team was hurt after its 75-67 loss to the Bonnies, because it knew the opportunity it had to re-gain the trust of longtime Minutemen fans that have awaited a respectable on-court product for so long.

“I haven’t been here long enough to understand how fans are gonna manage this moment,” Martin said. “I get that they’ve been burnt in the past, and I get they struggle to trust right now. I understand all that. I hope they respect the way our players have played this season, that [the players] are giving [the fans] a meaningful game in late February, something that hasn’t happened here in awhile. Unfortunately we weren’t quite ready to go win that game today… These kids fight. I hope our fans stick with our kids. It’s late in the year, and we’ve still got a chance to still do some special things.”

To even get the crowd they did on Saturday shows what fans think of this year’s UMass team. The Minutemen are young, scrappy and play with an edge that not many teams in the Atlantic 10 have.

That style of play has allowed them to respond to tough losses like Saturday in dominant fashion. UMass is currently 8-1 after defeats, its eight wins coming by an average margin of 16 points – the one defeat a one-point loss at the buzzer to Loyola Chicago.

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George Washington is the next team in line to deal with an angry Minutemen squad, as UMass travels to Washington, D.C. for a Tuesday night 7 p.m. (ESPN-Plus) bout with the Revolutionaries.

The Minutemen faced George Washington once already, actually coming off that Ramblers loss where they handled the Revolutionaries easily in an 81-67 home win.

Since then, GW has fallen off a steep cliff. After winning their first three Atlantic 10 games of the season against VCU, Davidson and George Mason, the Revolutionaries haven’t won a game – losing 11 straight conference contests. The loss to UMass started that stretch.

There’s no question the Minutemen are going to be ready to go against one of the worst teams in the A-10 (GW is tied for last with Saint Louis at 3-11 in the conference).

James Bishop IV (18.5 ppg), Darren Buchanan Jr. (15.2), Garrett Johnson (13.4) and Maximus Edwards (12.6) lead George Washington in scoring, and each of them are dangerous, high-volume scorers. Three of those four are guards (excluding Buchanan Jr.), so it’s a must for Keon Thompson and the UMass backcourt to continue the aggressive defense they’ve played this season on Tuesday.

With just three games left on the schedule, now is the time to start peaking as the conference tournament approaches closer and closer.

It starts with a win against an inferior opponent in George Washington on Tuesday.