Chaz Williams and the UMass Minutemen (12-4, 1-1) will look to stay perfect at home, when they host their Atlantic 10 rivals, the Charlotte 49ers (9-5, 2-0) at the Mullins Center at 7p.m. EDT on Thursday in Amherst, Massachusetts. (TV:None/Radio:Streaming on umassathletics.com)
UMass and Charlotte will play for the 11th time, with the series split at five games apiece. Last season, UMass ended a three-game 49ers winning streak between the two teams, with a 73-54 win in North Carolina. Sharp-shooter Freddie Riley led the Minutemen with 18 points on four 3-pointers and the Minutemen dominated the boards (40-32).
The Minutemen are coming off their worst performance in over a month, in an 82-75 loss at LaSalle Sunday, that broke a six-game UMass winning streak. LaSalle grabbed a 26-point halftime lead (51-25) and hung on, despite a massive Minutemen rally in the second half. Chaz Williams (24), Jesse Morgan (22) and Sean Carter (18), all scored career-highs for the short-handed UMass side, but no other player scored more than five points in the loss.
After a slow start to the season, Charlotte is off to a perfect 2-0 start in Atlantic 10 play. The 49ers trip to Philadelphia this past weekend was much more successful than UMass', as Charlotte grabbed a 57-52 win over St. Joseph's. Both defenses were stingy, as both sides shot under 40 percent in the second half and turned the ball over 10 or more times. Freshmen point guard Pierria Henry was the lone 49er in double-digits with 11 points and five rebounds, he also iced the game, with a steal and two free throws in the final 10 seconds.
Derek Kellogg's Minutemen contigent has been perfect at home this season (8-0), thanks to their new system of play and Williams. The sophomore point guard paces UMass with 15.7 points and his 5.8 assists per game, are good for 26th best in the nation. His strong play has pushed UMass to the top of the Atlantic 10 in scoring; as the Minutmen's 77.2 points per game, is second best in the conference out of 14 teams. Raphiael Putney (9.1ppg) and Riley (8.8ppg) have come on strong in the past 10 games and are the team's second and third leading scorers. Junior forward Terrell Vinson and Carter lead the team in rebounding at 6.1 boards per game. The Minutemen lead the conference in rebounding at 41.7 rebounds per game and are seventh best in the nation.
Just like UMass, Charlotte is having an extremely successful season, after struggling a year ago. Junior forward Chris Braswell leads the 49ers in scoring (13.5ppg), rebounding (7.4rbg) and blocks (1.5bpg). Henry leads the team in assists with 3.3 per game and is being touted as an early favorite for Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year. He is one of six Charlotte players to average seven point or more, for a 49ers team that could match last season's win total (10), with a win tonight.
The two teams have three shared opponents (East Carolina, Davidson and Miami (Fl.)) and have both beaten the first two and lost to the Hurricanes.
Prediction: UMass played their worst half of basketball all season long Sunday, and won't let it happen two games in a row. While Charlotte is extremely balanced, I don't think they have ball handlers to beat the Minutemen press effectively. Look for UMass to rebound with a big victory in the friendly confines of the Mullins Center.
UMass 71, Charlotte 68