• The Minutemen played without three of their leading scorers: Noah Fernandes (13.4 points per game); Matt Croce (12.9); and Dyondre Dominguez (9.0).
• UMass had lost five consecutive games and had not won an away game at the A-10 in the previous seven attempts.
• Rhode Island would have upset first-place VCU on the same field three days earlier if not for a buzzer-beat from Zeb Jackson.
• Rhode Island also had the extra motivation to play the same day as they retired the numbers of Tom Garrick, Kenny Green and Silk Owens, while placing those players and the 1987-88 and 1997-98 teams in the first Ring of Honors class program.
Despite these factors, UMass (14-13, 5-10) recorded its most lopsided A-10 road win since 1996.
“My apologies should be issued by myself to anyone who loves Rhode Island basketball,” Rhode Island coach Archie Miller said after the game. “Those two former teams, those two players, you want that arena to feel good. It wasn’t a good feeling today.”
UMass will build on that momentum in a Wednesday 7 p.m. game against the Dayton Flyers (18-9, 10-4) at the Mullins Center in Amherst, Massachusetts, where Dayton hasn’t played as of 2020.
Dayton and head coach Anthony Grant didn’t need another reminder that on any given night any team in the A-10 can beat any other but they got one. Grant also has the experience of playing against his close friend Frank Martin, the first year UMass head coach, many times.
“Frank and I have known each other since we were about 14,” Grant told Larry Hansgen on Monday on WHIO Radio’s Flyer Insider show. “Our relationship is much deeper than X and O and basketball games. I know they are going through adversity with wins, losses and injuries. When I watch his team play, they compete at a high level. Frank has always been a guy who gets the best out of his players game after game and throughout the season. This will be a big challenge for us.”
Martin is 4-2 against Grant. When Grant coached at Alabama and Martin coached at Kansas State, #17 Kansas State beat Alabama 87-74 on December 19, 2009 in Mobile, Alabama. Two years later, No. 23 Alabama lost 71-58 to Kansas State in Kansas City, Mo.
Martin moved from Kansas State to South Carolina in the 2012-13 season. Over the next three seasons, South Carolina and Alabama split four games. Wednesday’s fight comes two days before eight years after Martin and Grant trained against each other. Alabama beat Kansas State 59-51 on February 24, 2015, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Grant lost his job in Alabama 19 days later.
UMass hired Martin in March to replace Matt McCall, another coach close to Grant. McCall was 61-82 in five seasons. Martin got off to a good start with a 9-3 record in non-conference play. The team struggled from the start of the A-10 game and only put together two wins once.
Injuries hurt. Fernandes has missed the last 11 games with an ankle injury. Cross suffered a knee injury Feb. 14 during a game against Loyola Chicago, and Martin said last week that he was out indefinitely.
Without Fernandes, who scored 26 points against Dayton in the quarterfinals of the A-10 tournament last season, and Cross and also Dominguez (illness), UMass shot 56.8% from 2-point range against Rhode Island. This was his second best performance of the season. Freshmen Keon Thompson and RJ Luis combined for 29 points. Rhode Island had its worst offensive game of the season, posting an effective field goal percentage of 27.7%.
“I’m happy for the boys,” Martin said after the game, according to a report by Michael Bergmann, by A10Talk.com. “Losing sucks. The boys answered the bell. I said (to the media) after the game the other day that some guys asked for guidance on how they can help us and play. They called their numbers today. Each of them helped us win today with attention to detail and competitiveness. Really proud of the boys.”
Dayton snaps a three-game hitting streak in Wednesday’s game and would take another step toward clinching a top-4 seed in the A-10 tournament with a win. He has a two-game lead, plus a tiebreaker, over fifth-place team Duquesne (18-9, 8-6). The Flyers had a better road game with victories at VCU and Loyola Chicago since losing three straight games on the road to George Washington, Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure.
“Our defense has been elite,” Dayton assistant coach James Kane told Hansgen on Monday. “You have to play your best ball in March. We’ve had adversity all year. It made us stronger in my opinion. I’m excited for the next two weeks. Take it.”
Dayton to Massachusetts, 7:00 p.m., CBS Sports Network, 1290, 95.7