Fairfax, VA (SportsNetwork.com) - The 16th-ranked Massachusetts Minutemen will begin a season-long three-game road trip on Wednesday night when they head to the Patriot Center for an Atlantic 10 Conference bout with the George Mason Patriots.
UMass has been outstanding this season, with its only loss in 15 tries coming at Florida State back on Dec. 21 (60-55). Since that setback, the Minutemen have run off a four-game winning streak, which includes back-to-back victories to open up A-10 play versus Saint Joseph's (66-62) and most recently against St. Bonaventure on Saturday afternoon (73-68).
GMU, meanwhile, has not fared so well this season, as it sits with just a 7-9 overall record and a 0-2 mark in league action. The Patriots dropped an 84-80 decision against Saint Joseph's on Saturday night for their third straight loss, but the good news is that they have performed well at the Patriot Center at 5-2.
This marks the first-ever meeting on the hardwood between these newly- acquainted conference rivals.
The Minutemen appeared in trouble on their home floor over the weekend, as they trailed St. Bonaventure by double digits midway through the second half, but they got their act together and ended the game on a 26-8 run to capture the five-point victory. They were aided by a solid .451 field goal percentage and earned a decisive advantage at the free-throw line, outscoring the Bonnies, 24-12. Raphiael Putney tallied 17 points and eight rebounds, while Cady Lalanne and Sampson Carter scored 16 and 11 points, respectively. Chaz Williams shot just 1-of-7 from the field but was still a factor with eight points, nine assists and three steals.
It's no surprise UMass has risen to elite levels this season considering its shoots 46.9 percent from the field for 78.3 ppg, which is good for a +8.8 scoring margin. Williams sets the tone from the backcourt by recording 15.4 ppg, 7.5 apg and more than a steal per contest, while shooting 43.3 percent from 3-point range. Lalanne (13.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.5 bpg) is a force in the paint, while Carter (11.6 ppg), Putney (11.0 ppg) and Derrick Gordon (9.1 ppg) round out a balanced starting five.
The Patriots were in control of their latest game up by two with 6:34 remaining, but they fell victim to a quick 9-0 run by Saint Joseph's and could never recover as their losing streak continued. They shot an impressive 49.2 percent from the field on the evening, including 11-of-23 from 3-point range, but they ultimately couldn't slow down the Hawks, who shot just shy of 60 percent from the field. Jalen Jenkins and Bryon Allen were both excellent in the loss with 20 points apiece, Sherrod Wright netted 11 and Patrick Holloway game off the bench to score 10.
On the season, GMU has typically struggled offensively, as it shoots less than 43 percent from the field for 66.6 ppg, which all but spoils a solid effort on the defensive end of the floor (.440, 68.5 ppg). Allen leads the squad in both scoring (14.4 ppg) and assists (3.6 apg) and has drained 83.3 percent of his free-throw attempts. Wright (13.3 ppg) is the only other player to net in double figures on a nightly basis, although he does so on just 38.8 percent from the field.