Growing pains

Well, you can put the champagne away now.

Nobody thought UMass basketball was going to run the table this year, not the craziest fan with the marooniest glasses. Indeed, the Minutemen have failed their first true test of the season, albeit barely, falling to Boston College 76-71 at the Gahhhden. No Terrell Vinson heroics this time. Hell, no Tony Gaffney tip-in at the buzzer to force overtime. Just a sloppy, sloppy game on both sides, where the Minutemen failed to find the offensive rhythm they rely so heavily upon.

Now, this is no time for our boys to hang their heads in shame. Despite the huge opportunity lost tonight to really rile up the student support, UMass hung in there with a power-conference team, one with a certifiable superstar (Reggie Jackson), an experienced lineup, a head coach on the rise (Donahue, whom you may recall from last year’s home loss to Cornell). On another night, those missed bunnies fall in, and/or BC doesn’t cash in on seemingly every single free throw, and you’re looking at a steal of a win. But truth be told, the experienced Eagles were able to overcome the disjointedness of the game, and UMass wasn’t, and that made all the difference.

There’s a lot of good to take from this game. UMass didn’t let the game get out of hand down 13 early in the second half, cutting the lead to 2 on numerous occasions. Terrell Vinson actually showed up. Sean Carter was the energy player this team really needs him to be. Anthony Gurley continues to be an absolute beast. Most importantly, Daryl Traynham, back from his foot injury, was the sparkplug in the second half, doing just about everything to try and will this team to a win. I wasn’t able to watch the game, but from the sounds of it, good things happened every time DT was on the floor. To consider that this lil’ guy’s merely a freshman makes me very excited.

Now for the bad. Hashim “Moderate-Sized Village” Bailey continues to struggle with, well, just about all aspects of the game, committing silly fouls and failing to make full use of his still-quite-large frame, which you’d think would be an asset on an undersized team like this one. Javorn Farrell battled foul trouble all night and seemed largely neutralized by the constantly-shifting BC defense. Freddie Riley’s shot continues to be way too streaky. Had that three-pointer for the lead fallen, maybe he gets it going and this game ends differently…but when he’s frustratingly cold like tonight, it limits this team’s offensive options severely. Gary Correia’s struggles continued, and there’s not a lot of point guard depth right now with the injury still seemingly limiting how long they can keep DT out there.

The Eagles, hate to say it, look a heck of a lot better than most of us figured they’d be, in the first year under a new head coach and such. Donahue, unlike Kellogg, has experience on his side, as well as veteran talent already in place. They’re a better team than UMass right now. The fact that they did what they did without Raji tonight, in what turned out to be a fairly hostile environment (despite their proximity to home; after all, Boston College is conveniently located somewhat near the city it claims to be in) is particularly impressive.

Here’s the good news: the way this season is going, BC might be the best team UMass plays all season, except for maybe UCF (Seton Hall is missing its go-to guy, or I’d throw them in there as well). The A-10 has been inconsistent in non-conference play and seems ripe for the taking. Temple looks particularly disappointing, Xavier and Dayton are solid but beatable, Charlotte’s a mess and Richmond just lost to Old Dominion. Particularly as Traynham continues to take control of this team (as I think he will), TV gets his act together (as I hope he will), and Kellogg’s in-game coaching continues to improve, I can’t imagine that UMass will have as many easy shots missed as they did tonight, against a very good defense to boot. They’re sure to get better looks against the Maines and Central Connecticuts of the world, not to mention a good portion of that conference schedule.

So here’s the key: bounce back on this mini-homestand. Maine shouldn’t be overlooked because the team’s gonna want to bounce right back. Seton Hall is a Big East team on a Saturday night, so you’d expect a big crowd (although not as big, sadly, as it would’ve been if they won tonight), playing without its best player…gotta think they can pull that off. UCF is surprising a lot of people this year, and will probably be their next big test, but I don’t think they’re as good as BC this year. BU was expected to be better this year, but they haven’t looked too impressive in the early going. Sweeping is not out of the question, but even a 3-1 stretch leaves the Minutemen at 10-2, with what should be a win at Central Connecticut standing between them and the start of conference play.

Counting our chickens before they hatch? Probably. They could go 0-4, and then it’s back to the old drawing board. Still, you gotta admit, even when they lose, as they did tonight, this team can’t help but compete night-in and night-out. They’re making strides from last year in just about every aspect of the game. They never seem out of it like they did at times last campaign. I’d be shocked if they didn’t start to click real soon and start playing to their full potential.

Stay winning. Or rather, get back to winning, and then stay there. Tonight’s just a little bump in the road.

-Max

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