Battle on the boards will be key for UMass basketball against UMass Lowell

  • UMass forward Isaac Kante grabs a rebound against Albany on Monday. The Minutemen are hosting one of the nation's top rebounding teams in UMass Lowell at 7 p.m. Thursday (NESN). CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/7/2022 5:57:27 PM
Modified: 12/7/2022 5:57:06 PM

AMHERST – Frank Martin sounded more like a coach with a team on a six-game losing streak after Monday’s win over Albany. The UMass men’s basketball coach warned of the team’s lack of enthusiasm and questioned its leadership after poor practices and habits.

Harsh? Maybe. But the Minutemen signed up for this level of passion and honesty. Martin knows what makes a team great and wants that for the Minutemen.

South Carolina transfer Wildens Leveque understands. He played for Martin for three years and followed him to Amherst.

“I get it. He just demands you to get better every single day. That’s who he is as a guy, and that’s what he’s always coached,” Leveque said. “It’s coming from a place of love. When you look back 10 years later from now, you’re gonna be thankful for a person like Frank Martin in your life that pushed you and demanded you be better every single day.”

In order to extend that winning streak to seven against UMass Lowell on Thursday (7 p.m. NESN), the Minutemen will have to rebound better. The River Hawks (9-1) lead the nation in rebounding margin, grabbing 14 more boards per game than their opponents. UMass Lowell is also the No. 2 total rebounding team in the country pulling down 44.1 per game.

UMass (6-1), meanwhile, has been out rebounded in its last three games and has grabbed fewer boards than its opponents over the course of the season.

“I lose a lot of sleep when it’s three in a row, and that's the perfect example of the lack of enthusiasm. That's got to be a staple of our program. That is an effort play, that is a relentless pursuit play,” Martin said. “To do those two things – effort, relentless pursuit – you got to have enthusiasm for what you do because those are difficult. Rebounding is a difficult thing. It's not easy. You have to out will the opponent. To do that, you got to have tremendous enthusiasm for who you are.”

The Minutemen are still figuring that out. Depth has defined UMass as much as any quality. It ranks first in the country in bench minutes and seventh nationally in bench scoring.

“I wish those two stats were reversed,” Martin said. “I’m trying to figure out our team. I’m a big believer in depth and preparing guys.”

That belief bore fruit when leading scorer Noah Fernandes missed the Albany game after injuring his right ankle against Harvard. The senior will have a precautionary MRI. The swelling has come down but isn’t gone.

“It’s an ugly foot right now,” Martin said.

Freshman Keon Thompson and UConn transfer Rahsool Diggins shared the point guard mantle comfortably against the Great Danes. Thompson scored 13 points and distributed four assists in 30 minutes off the bench, while Diggins started and played nine minutes largely battling foul trouble.

“It’s the part of the year where you need to develop your team. By playing those guys earlier, they were prepared to help us the other day by going out there and being comfortable because they've been on the court and they've been asked to produce,” Martin said.

The River Hawks have no questions about their identity. They have 11 upperclassmen and eight returners for longtime coach Pat Duquette. Lowell has won seven games in a row, its longest streak since 2008. The River Hawks are off to their best start since 2002.

“They’re old. They’re structured. They’re well coached,” Martin said. “They play the game the right way. You’re not going to trick them into a win.”

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