UMass basketball: Davidson’s blistering offense a result of Minutemen’s poor defense in loss

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 02-04-2023 6:59 PM

AMHERST – Davidson couldn’t be stopped in the second half of Saturday’s 93-78 victory over the UMass men’s basketball team. Not that the Minutemen provided the appropriate resistance.

The Minutemen allowed a season-high 93 points. An opponent hadn’t torched UMass so thoroughly since George Mason hit the same mark in a double-OT victory Dec. 30, 2020. The previous season high was 85 by UMass Lowell.

Davidson made 55.9 percent of its shots and 53.8 percent of its 3s. Those figures soared to 64.3 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from deep after halftime, when the Wildcats (11-12, 4-7 Atlantic 10) poured in 55 points.

“When I got asked to come here to represent this basketball program, and I stood in front of everybody for the first time, and I was asked, ‘what your team's gonna be like?’ I said, ‘we're not getting out of the way,’” UMass coach Frank Martin said. “We got out of the way (Saturday), that hurts my soul.”

Davidson junior Connor Kochera poured in a season-high 29 points off the bench. The William & Mary guard hit 10-of-13 shots and made 7-of-9 3s. Foster Loyer added 19 points, while David Skogman hit four 3s and added 15 points. As many Davidson players scored in double figures as shot worse than 50 percent from the field.

“Our biggest struggle was, which has been a struggle all year, our inability to just guard the guy with the ball. That's getting harder and harder to teach these days,” Martin said. “We got to guard the basketball man, that's just plain and simple. We have rules on what we do defensively, and we were bad (Saturday). We didn't defend (Saturday). We can sit around and say, well, we don't have this guy, didn't have that guy and that guy here, and all that's irrelevant. You still have to play with a competitive edge to give yourself a chance to win, and we didn't do that.”

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UMass was without point guard Noah Fernandes with his injured ankle, freshman RJ Luis in concussion protocol and UConn transfer Rahsool Diggins with a leg injury. Martin said he doesn’t see Fernandes back “for the foreseeable future” and called concussions a “complicated animal.”

Matt Cross lifted the Minutemen with a career-high 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting. He also grabbed two rebounds with three assists, one of which was a half-court, eyes-widening alley-oop to freshman Tafara Gapare.

“My teammates were finding me. We made good plays, good passes, and it just happened to come. But I think it was just a team effort of getting good passes to me,” Cross said. 

That was after missing the previous game against George Mason and most of the last week in bed and at the hospital with a stomach flu. He subsisted on apple sauce and yogurt and lost 17-18 pounds before practicing for roughly 30 minutes Friday.

“If he's fighting, then we all got to fight a little extra harder for him just to pick him up because he's not 100 percent,” said UMass guard T.J. Weeks Jr., who scored 10 points with three assists. “If I see him fighting, I'm gonna fight 150 percent.”

The Wildcats built a 77-63 lead with 6 minutes, 18 seconds left after a Skogman layup. UMass (13-10) then ripped off a 7-0 run to pull within seven a little over a minute later. Dyondre Dominguez (12 points, five rebounds) dropped in a soaring layup, while he and Cross both grabbed offensive rebounds the next possession to energize the crowd.

A whistle against the Minutemen that sent Loyer to the free throw line after UMass had cut it to seven silenced the energy. His two makes from the stripe restored Davidson’s double-digit lead for good.

“It was definitely frustrating. I mean, they were hitting their shots, but at the end of the day, a lot of them are open. We're nowhere on rotations. They just pretty much got whatever they wanted, when they wanted,” Cross said. “It was frustrating, because we're getting some good stuff on offense, but just not a lot of defense going on.”

Freshman point guard Keon Thompson started his second consecutive game and orchestrated the offense with aplomb, registering a career-high 12 assists with just two turnovers. He scored six points and grabbed three rebounds.

“He's getting better on being patient. He's really good at getting to the spot, getting to the elbow, like deep into their defense to make it easier on the passes and get the ball where we want,” Cross said. “I feel like he is really doing well setting up our offense as of lately.”

Davidson built a 10 point lead 37-27 at the 10:01 mark after a Skogman 3. The Wildcats shot 7-of-14 from beyond the arc in the first half. 

UMass outscored Davidson 18-11 the rest of the way to halftime, powered by a 12-2 run after Skogman’s 3. Cross dropped in a layup surrounded by three defenders and ran back up the court pointing at his wrist for a foul. He hit seven of his first nine shots and scored 17 points before halftime.

“I thought we tried late in the first half. But in the second half, we never put up a fight defensively,” Martin said.

Defense being Martin’s essence, it’s up to him to instruct. The Minutemen travel to surprising A-10 No. 4 Fordham (18-4) on Wednesday.

“I got a little saying that I live life by, it’s I'm really, really stubborn, but the older I get, the better I get at not letting stubborn become stupid. I try to utilize my mind and my life experiences to adapt, so I can teach to get it to that place,” Martin said. “If you don't hold people accountable, it’s hard to make them better. That's my challenge right now as I continue to try to keep myself involved in the life of young people and help them achieve and grow.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.]]>