After a 16-5 (5-2 Atlantic 10) start to the season, Derek Kellogg's Minutemen picked the wrong time to begin to falter. UMass (19-9, 8-6 A10) has lost four of their past seven, in a stretch that includes losses to last place Rhode Island, their first home defeat of the year to LaSalle and their worst performance of the year (76-43) in Saturday's contest against Dayton.
Somehow the Minutemen will have to turn it all around before tonight's matchup against the Atlantic 10 leading #23/25 Temple Owls (22-6, 11-3) who are 11-1 at home and can clinch the Atlantic 10 Title with a victory. Gametime at the Liacouras Center is set for 7 p.m. EDT with the game available on the radio on the UMass Sports Network of stations.
Temple holds a commanding 42-20 lead in the all-time series but that figure is a bit deceptive. The Owls won the first 21 games between the two programs, before UMass went on to win 13 of the next 15. Last season, the Owls came away with a 73-67 Overtime victory over UMass when the Minutemen hit just 1-of-10 shots in the extra session. Senior guard Anthony Gurley led the Minutemen with 25 points on UMass' Senior Day.
UMass turned in their ugliest game of the season Saturday against the Flyers on Dayton's Senior Day. The Minutemen shot a season-low 25 percent (13-of-52) and turned the ball over 15 times, while failing to connect on a field goal for the final 8:27 of the game. After UMass went on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to 40-34, the Flyers closed out the game on a 36-9 run over the final 13:40. During that stretch Umass hit just one field goal, a Chaz Williams three, and hit just six percent (1-of-15) of their shots. Williams led the Minutemen with 11 points, all of which came in the second half.
The Owls also got wrapped up in Saturday's craziness, as five of the seven Atlantic 10 games resulted in upsets. St. Joseph's ended the Owls 11 game winning streak with an 82-72 victory on the Hawks home floor. Senior center Michael Eric finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds for the Owls, while the top two scorers in the Atlantic 10-Ramone Moore (15 points) and Khalif Wyatt (11 points) both finished below their season averages.
Kellogg's squad will return to Amherst this weekend for Senior Day against Rhode Island in the team's regular season finale. While UMass has already won their most conference games under Kellogg in his first four seasons this year, the group still has a chance to earn their highest seed ever under Kellogg and to advance to Atlantic City for just the second time. Saturday's game is set to tip at 4 p.m EDT.
Prediction: Tonight's matchup pits the top two scoring teams in the Atlantic 10 against each other, but the two teams succeed for very different reasons. While Temple leads the conference in shooting percentage and has the most talented roster by far with Moore, Wyatt and point guard Juan Fernandez, UMass' new full court pressure and constant aggressiveness has led to a lot of easy points. With the way the Minutemen have been playing recently, they'll need a lot of things to go there way to even be in this game in the final five minutes.
Temple 78, UMass 69