Fordham no trap game for UMass men's basketball

  • The UMass men's basketball team is headed to Fordham on Sunday for a 2:30 p.m. tip off on NBC Sports. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/15/2021 7:03:35 PM

Sunday’s visit to Fordham contains all the markers of a textbook trap game.

The Rams are 1-4. They’re the only Atlantic 10 team to play fewer games than the UMass men’s basketball team so far.

UMass (4-3, 3-1 A-10) is coming off a dramatic, overtime win over rival Rhode Island. The Minutemen are riding their first winning streak of the season.

But UMass coach Matt McCall doesn’t think the Minutemen are in a place to look past any opponent and have a trap game Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in the Bronx.

“Trap game? We’ve shown what we’re capable of and how we’re capable of playing,” he said. “But we haven’t won a tremendous amount in the Atlantic 10 over these past four years. Every A-10 game is important.”

The Rams (1-4, 1-4 A-10) lone win came against Dayton on Jan. 5 in the Bronx. That would be the same Dayton that was picked in the top half of the conference and dominated the league last season.

They did it with a methodical, defensive style. Fordham is one of the 20 slowest teams in the country, according to Kenpom.com’s rankings. The Rams only average more possessions per game than Virginia. They’ve kept two teams under 60 points and beat Dayton 55-54.

“They like to play a slower game, really good on the defensive end,” UMass sophomore guard Noah Fernandes said. “We want to play at our pace and stay away from that slow-paced game they like to play.”

UMass has the second-most possessions per game in the country (81.4) behind Alabama A&M (86.9). The Minutemen lead the A-10 in scoring at 85.3 points per game. They have four players averaging double figures led by sophomore center Tre Mitchell’s 20 points per game.

“They’re gritty, they’re tough, they want it to be a rock fight. They’re going to switch actions, they’re going to jam up the wings. They’re going to down pick and rolls and make it difficult to run offense,” McCall said. “If you get frustrated you’re going to be looking at a 50-50 game with a minute to go and who’s going to make plays down the stretch?”

Against Rhode Island, it was the Minutemen. They gave up a 15-point lead in the second half but came up with a key steal at the end of overtime.

Scoring hasn’t been UMass’ problem this year. They’re 14th in the nation in scoring offense and have broken 80 in six of their seven contests.

“We’ve changed the narrative. We talked a lot about offense, but we have a talented enough team where we don’t have to make it super complicated,” UMass forward Dibaji Walker said. “We realized our issue was the defensive end. That’s where I stepped in and tried to lead.”

Walker, a junior, has started the last two games, both UMass wins. He had four blocks against Rhode Island and hassled La Salle at the head of the press.

“He’s embraced that role, that’s why he’s in the starting lineup,” Matt McCall said. “He wants to guard the other team’s best player and get after him.”

That defensive approach in practice helped UMass start a winning streak. The Minutemen plan to continue their attention to detail heading toward Sunday.

“We’ve got to take the same approach we’ve been taking the past two games. We won the last two games with our preparation,” Fernandes said. “We were locked in (at practice Friday) and hopefully we’ll be locked in (Saturday) so we can get right into it.”

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


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