Amherst, MA (SportsNetwork.com) - The 19th-ranked Massachusetts Minutemen will attempt to use a strong start in non-conference play to propel them to success in the Atlantic 10 Conference, beginning with a bout against the Saint Joseph's Hawks tonight at the Mullins Center.
The Hawks are also making their 2013-14 debut in the A-10. They bring a five- game win streak into the contest, although the most recent outing was a 53-52 escape act against Denver. Saint Joseph's is 9-4 overall and has won two of three true road tests. It will face conference newcomer George Mason on the road next.
The Minutemen have recovered from their first loss of the season to post back- to- back wins against Providence (69-67 in OT)) and Miami-Ohio (73-65). They are now sitting at 12-1 overall, and that includes a 5-0 mark at home, as they prepare to defend their first top-20 ranking in more than a decade. UMass will wrap up the four-game homestand when it hosts St. Bonaventure this Saturday.
An 80-62 win for the Minutemen last season was the third in the last four meetings between these two squads. UMass leads the all-time series by a 33-29 margin. However, both teams were stuck in the middle of the A-10 pack last season, with UMass going 9-7, and Saint Joseph's 8-8.
Saint Joseph's was able to hold off a feisty Denver squad by shooting 52.6 percent from the floor over the final 20 minutes. The Hawks also earned a major advantage on the boards (38-26) to claim the decision. Ronald Roberts (nine points, 15 rebounds) didn't have his most effective offensive night, but he was a major force on the glass.
The inside-outside combination of Roberts (15.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and Langston Galloway (16.9 ppg) has been the center of coach Phil Martelli's game plan this season. Galloway is the leading scorer, and after netting 14 points against Denver, he has now reached double figures in all but one game this season. Roberts is knocking down 57.4 percent from the floor and has had two double-doubles on the campaign, although he has scored in double figures just twice in the last five games. DeAndre Bembry (10.5 ppg) is the third member of the team averaging at least 10 ppg, and Halil Kanacevic (9.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 4.2 apg) is a strong passer from his spot in the frontcourt.
Chaz Williams scored 18 points and handed out eight assists to lead UMass past Miami-Ohio. Under Williams' direction, the Minutemen shot 51 percent from the floor and finished with 21 assists on 25 field goals. UMass was beat up on the interior though, suffering deficits on the boards (34-27) and in points in the paint (45-34).
The Minutemen are arguably the best offensive team in the A-10. They lead the conference in scoring (79.7 ppg), assists (16.3 apg) and rebounding (40.4 rpg), while ranking second in field goal percentage (.472). Williams (15.5 ppg, 7.3 apg, 2 spg) is the center of attention at both ends, leading the team in scoring, assists and steals. In fact the 5-foot-9 guard heads the conference in helpers. Williams has a fine supporting cast, anchored by Cady Lalanne (14.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 2.8 bpg), who leads the A-10 in rebounds and blocks. Sampson Carter (12.2 ppg) and Rahpiael Putney (10.4 ppg) have also made their mark.