Friday, January 03, 2014
AMHERST — For the University of Massachusetts men’s basketball team to get to Christmas still undefeated, it will have to navigate its way through a pair of difficult road games.
While Saturday’s tilt against Florida State in the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic in Sunrise, Fla., will certainly be the higher profile game, Wednesday’s 7 p.m. game at Ohio University shapes up as one of the No. 22/20 Minutemen’s toughest so far.
While most Ohio students are gone for semester break, the Bobcats are still expected to draw a crowd. Ohio is promoting the game as the first top-20 opponent to visit the Convocation Center since No. 7 Kentucky in 1997.
Opponents outside the top 20 haven’t fared well in Athens. Ohio is 44-3, including 6-0 this season, over its last 47 games at home.
The Bobcats (7-2) opened the season with a win over Northern Iowa, before falling at Ohio State. Following a five-game win streak, they lost at Oakland then beat Alabama A&M, 72-47, Saturday.
“Going 44-3 in their last 47 home games means it’s a tough place to play,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “Us being rated where we are gives them even more energy to have a big crowd and even play that much more outside themselves.”
UMass (9-0) has played just one true road game, a Dec. 3rd win over Eastern Michigan.
“A traditional road game is always difficult especially when you’re starting to get national publicity because those teams play better than normal,” Kellogg said. “It’s as hard a week as it gets. Two road games against very good teams and programs. ... I think we’re a good team and I think the guys are mature enough to go on the road and win some basketball games.”
Sophomore guard Derrick Gordon said focus is key.
“Every team we play, they’re going to be looking to give us their best. We just have to stay focused,” Gordon said. “We have to stay together. There’s going to be a home-court advantage. The refs might not give us calls. We just have to stay focused and keep fighting.”
Nick Kellogg (no relation) and Maurice Ndour each average 13.9 points per game to lead Ohio. Kellogg, a 6-foot-3 senior shooting guard, is the Bobcats’ top 3-point shooter making 20-of-43 attempts (46.5 percent). Ndour, a 6-foot-9 junior forward from Senegal, leads the team in rebounding (7.9 rpg) and blocked shots (20). Ndour and 6-foot-7 Saint Louis transfer Jon Smith (8.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 19 blocks) give Ohio a strong inside presence that has helped the Bobcats outrebound opponents by 3.3 boards per game.
This will be the third time UMass has matched up against Jim Christian, who interviewed to coach the Minutemen before the school chose Travis Ford. The Minutemen beat TCU when Christian coached there in 2010 and beat Ohio last year.
This is the third of four games against Mid-American Conference opponents that UMass is contractually obligated to play as part of the football program’s membership in the conference. The Minutemen will try to extend their season-plus winning streak to 7-0 against MAC teams.
The Minutemen, who are done with classes and exams, will stay on the road and travel to Florida Thursday morning.
NOTES: Raphiael Putney’s scoring resurgence has put him back on track to reach 1,000 points in his career. If he maintains his 12.7 average, he’ll crack triple-digits against La Salle on Feb. 5. Chaz Williams enters the game needing 11 points to become the 17th UMass player to score 1,300 career points.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage