UMass basketball may have roster limitations against Fordham

  • Carl Pierre and the UMass basketball team are returning from a brief pause to play Fordham at 6 p.m. Wednesday. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/2/2021 9:07:32 PM

Shootaround in the Mullins Center will determine a lot before the UMass men’s basketball team faces Fordham at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

The Minutemen could only have seven scholarship players available against the Rams. The rest will be game-time decisions, according to UMass coach Matt McCall. He didn’t specify which players were in which camp, but Tre Mitchell suffered a shoulder injury late against Dayton, Kolton Mitchell has been in the concussion protocol and Dibaji Walker has been dealing with a wrist injury.

McCall also indicated that some players — or a player, he was intentionally vague — are in a 10-day quarantine and will be eligible to leave shortly before the game.

“We’ve got a couple different things going on. We’ve got guys that are dealing with some injuries that are hard to play with,” McCall said. “If you’re dealing with having to go on a 10-day quarantine and get out on the day of the game, can you go out and perform? We’ve got a bunch of game time decisions.”

UMass (5-4, 4-2 Atlantic 10) returned to practice Saturday after pausing team activities Wednesday because of contact tracing. The sessions this week have largely been focused on individual instruction, player development and conditioning. The Minutemen haven’t been able to play 5-on-5 in practice since before they played La Salle at home Jan. 9. 

“That makes practice a challenge,” McCall said. “You’ve got to get creative in what we’re doing but still make it competitive to get stuff out of it.”

Shorthanded or not, UMass isn’t backing down from a game. The Minutemen have had 13 games postponed or canceled since the season began, McCall said.

“We’re looking forward, and we’ll appreciate the opportunity to be out there tomorrow,” McCall said. “We’re not going to take for granted any opportunity to go out and compete.”

Enter Fordham (1-8, 1-8), which has gone through its own whirlwind the past few weeks. Rams coach Jeff Neubauer was fired Jan. 26, and associate head coach Mike DePaoli took over on an interim basis while Fordham searches for a permanent replacement. The Rams lost their first game at home against Duquesne then had the next week’s contests at George Washington and VCU postponed.

“In those types of situations, there’s times where teams really come together and rally around that situation and play inspired,” McCall said.

The Rams have lost six games in a row, including Jan. 17 against UMass in Rose Hill Gym. They’re the lowest scoring team in the A-10 and one of the 20 slowest teams in the country.

“Fordham likes to slow it down and get games into a rock fight intentionally,” UMass senior Carl Pierre said.

The Minutemen didn’t let them throw the first stone last time out, building a 13-point lead in the game’s first eight minutes and leading by 30 at halftime. But they’re not counting on a win just by showing up.

“It’s hard to beat a team two times. I don’t think we can rest on the fact that we beat them the first time,” Pierre said. “We’ve got come in hungry and with intensity, try to beat them again.”

UMass will have to contend with one of the A-10’s best big men in Joel Soriano. He’s fourth in the conference in rebounding at 8.9 boards per game and scores 10.2 points per game. The Minutemen will have to do it potentially without Tre Mitchell, their stalwart center, depending on his shoulder. That means more minutes for Mark Gasperini. The graduate transfer from American played eight minutes the last time the teams met and grabbed three rebounds.

Playing without Tre Mitchell on the offensive end will be more complicated. He leads the Minutemen (and the A-10) in scoring at 20 points per game and is the team’s second-leading assister. UMass makes a habit of establishing Mitchell in the post early to decipher defenses and open up other areas of the floor if the opponent collapses on him. Without that fulcrum, the Minutemen will likely lean on their guards more, trying to push the pace of the game in transition. 

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

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