Riding their first two-game losing streak of the season, UMass (18-8, 7-5 Atlantic 10) will look to end two losing streaks tonight when they host Xavier (17-9. 8-4 A10) at the Mullins Center at 7 p.m. EDT. (TV: CBS College Sports Regional/Radio: 1510 AM WWZN)
After consecutive losses (St. Joseph's and Xavier) to being their hardest stretch of the season, UMass will continue their most difficult stretch run in the A10 with a Xavier squad that is one of four teams sitting ahead of them in the conference standings. With the top four teams receiving byes in the first round of the Atlantic 10, the Minutemen sit tied for fifth with LaSalle and St. Bonaventure (7-5) and a half-game behind St. Joes (8-5).
Xavier has dominated the recent history between these two teams with six straight victories to grab a 14-8 edge. The road wasn't kind last season to the Minutemen, who dropped a 79-50 affair after a 21-4 Musketeer run late in the first half opened up the game. Former UMass star Anthony Gurley was the lone UMass played to finish in double figures (12 points), while all five Xavier starters finished in double figures, led by point guard Tu Holloway.
UMass has been fantastic at home all season (12-1) but dropped their first decision of the year in a 72-71 loss to LaSalle. After overcoming a nine-point deficit late in the second half, the Minutemen failed to close out the Explorers when Terrell Vinson's fadeaway at the buzzer was ruled a long two. Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week Maxie Esho finished with a team-high 18 points and point guard Chaz Williams finished with his second consecutive double-double (11 points and 10 assists).
It took 65 minutes but Xavier extended a 31-year streak on their home court over Dayton with an 86-83 overtime victory. Holloway finished with a season-high 32 points on 14-of-15 free throw shooting and junior guard Mark Lyons finished with 20 points for the Musketeers.
Williams, the sophomore transfer from Hofstra, is having a historic season for the Minutemen that hasn't been seen in 30 years. If Williams can continue his success, he will be become the first UMass player to lead the team in points (15.5ppg), assists (6.2apg), steals (2.1spg) and minutes (33.3mpg). The last player to accomplish the feat was former UMass point guard Donald Russell in the 1981-82 season.
After eight consecutive wins to start the season, Xavier has been wildly inconsistent (9-9) since the team's end of game brawl against Cincinnati on December 10. Even after getting back the team's suspended players, the Musketeers have split their past eight games (4-4), with a 2-3 record away from the Cintas Center.
The Musketeers are led by their backcourt, as Holloway (17.3ppg) and Lyons (16ppg) average just under half of the team's 72 points per game. Holloway, one of the top players in the country coming into this season, leads Xavier with 5.6 assists per game, 1.6 steals per game and free throw shooting (86 percent). Vanderbilt transfer Andre Walker leads the team with six rebounds per game and chips in 5.7 points per game.
Prediction:As UMass slowly ascended to the top of the Atlantic 10, they began to feel the pressure and expectations as everyone's eyes fell on the them. The Minutemen haven't faced adversity like this (two-game losing streak and a home loss) all season long, so this will be a great challenge for the Minutemen. Xavier isn't a horrible matchup for the Minutemen, because they can focus on Lyons and Holloway on the perimeter, rather than having to worry about their big men covering three of four guards outside. Xavier 77, UMass 73