The digital-first, student-run magazine of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Journalism Department

Amherst Wire

The digital-first, student-run magazine of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Journalism Department

Amherst Wire

The digital-first, student-run magazine of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Journalism Department

Amherst Wire

UMass nabs 20th win for the first time since 2014-15 despite injuries

The Minutemen now have their sixth 20-win season since 1998-99
Kalina Kornacki

Once again, UMass (20-10, 11-7 A10) played their opponent down to the final possession, and similar to Davidson last weekend they came out on top. The Minutemen are now 4-6 in games decided by five points or less. 

“I never played on a 20-win team in my life,” forward Josh Cohen said. “I’m so happy this group was able to do it. We worked hard all year.”

Wednesday night’s 64-66 against the Fordham Rams (12-18, 6-11) was led by UMass’ frontcourt duo of forwards Cohen and Matt Cross. Together they scored 34 points on 10-21 shooting and each posted nine rebounds. Both players had to step up tonight as UMass was missing two players. 

Guard Keon Thompson missed his first contest of the season due to a lingering foot injury. In his place, guard Jaylen Curry entered the lineup making his first career start with UMass. Forward Robert Davis Jr. who also appeared in the previous 29 contests sat out due to concussion protocol. 

UMass started the game off slowly falling victim to an 11-3 Fordham run within the first four minutes. The Minutemen pushed closer off of baskets from forward Daniel Hankins-Sanford. Guard Rashool Diggins hit his first three of the evening too. 

Fordham started hot from deep too hitting three of their first five shots. Guard Kyle Rose caught fire early on for the Rams nailing three triples in the first half, but he struggled on the day overall hitting just 5-15 of his shots. 

Diggins, the best three-point shooter UMass has, would not be outdone though as he hit three shots from deep in the first half as well including a step back three to tie the game at 28. In the absence of Thompson, Diggins stepped up playing 37 minutes and adding 16 points.

Marqui Worthy had only played in 30 minutes of action since Jan. 13 and scored zero points in that span. However, with Thompson out of the lineup, he stepped up and scored four points in a season-high 21 minutes. Worthy played with grit on defense. He also hit some tough layups in key moments including a two-point basket to give UMass a 30-28 lead towards the end of the first half. 

UMass went into the half trailing 34-33. Heading into Wednesday night’s contest UMass was 4-6 in games where they trailed at halftime. The Minutemen excelled in the first half at limiting turnovers with just two, however, Fordham was winning the rebound battle 20-17. 

Heading into the second half, UMass kept it close but neither team could break open on a long scoring run. After Cohen hit three straight shots UMass took a 45-43 lead with just over 12 to go. 

With about five minutes to go, the Minutemen had built a five-point lead but the Rams refused to back down. Guard Antrell Charlton knocked down a triple and forward Abdou Tsimbila got four points of his own. Cross knocked down a three of his own on the other end of the floor to give UMass a six-point lead. 

However, UMass missed five straight free throw attempts in the closing minutes which allowed Fordham to bring it within one. On the night the Minutemen only hit 15-24 free throw attempts. Cross broke the streak of misses for UMass and after a Fordham free throw, it was 66-64. 

Hankins-Sanford received the rebound from a Fordham missed free throw, but stepped out of bounds giving Fordham the ball back with 2.5 seconds left. Rose got an excellent look from the corner to give Fordham the win but the ball rattled out giving UMass a gritty victory. 

On a rare occasion, UMass was outrebounded by their opponent 40-37. The Rams dominated the offensive board battle especially 17-9. Fordham even dominated the second chance points battle 15-9 which kept the game extremely close down the stretch. 

Speaking on the offensive rebounds, “I think a lot of them were long rebounds,” Cohen said. “It’s on me as the five to go out there and snatch those rebounds. … I just gotta box out more and be able to help the guys.”

Next up for UMass is the A10 tournament. With Dayton picking up a win on Friday night, UMass has catapulted themselves into the fourth seed. With the fourth seed in hand, UMass will have an automatic spot in the quarterfinal for the first time since 2007-08. 

The Minutemen will turn their focus to a 2 p.m. contest on Thursday which will be against the VCU Rams (20-12, 11-7). The Rams have dropped four of their last seven but are coming off a 69-62 victory against Fordham in the A10 tournament. UMass played VCU on Feb. 20 and took home a dominating 74-52 victory at the Mullins Center. 

Cross and Cohen were excellent that night posting 38 points together. Thompson played lockdown on VCU guard Max Shulga. Normally Shulga averages 15 a night, but he only scored 10 in the previous matchup. VCU also struggled on the boards that night posting 33 rebounds compared to 41 for UMass. 

The rest between games will be well appreciated by the Minutemen who are hoping Thompson and Davis Jr. will be ready to return next week. Either way, this Minutemen squad is battle-tested which will benefit them in the tournament. 

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