UMass-E. Michigan Preview
Massachusetts' first week ranked in the AP Top 25 in 15 years consisted of plenty of rest following a strong start that included a tournament championship.
The 21st-ranked Minutemen get back to work Tuesday night as they face Eastern Michigan in their first true road game of the season.
UMass (6-0) has been tested plenty in the early portion of its schedule, beating foes from the ACC (Boston College, Clemson), SEC (LSU) and Big Ten (Nebraska) while also knocking off then-No. 19 New Mexico 81-65 on Nov. 22 in the semifinals of the Charleston Classic.
It beat Clemson 62-56 two days later to capture the tournament title, leading to a No. 24 ranking in last week's poll that marked its first honor since the week of Nov. 17-23, 1998. It jumped three spots this week despite being idle.
Center Cady Lalanne was named the MVP in Charleston, averaging 17.0 points and 11.7 rebounds in the three games. He finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks in the championship, and the junior is leading the team with averages of 17.8 points and 11.3 rebounds.
Chaz Williams, the team's 5-foot-8 senior point guard, is averaging 16.0 points, but he scored four and shot 1 of 12 against Clemson. Williams finished 10 for 33 from the field for the tournament.
The Minutemen have trailed for only 5:46 in the second half all season, with all of that time coming in the opener against Boston College. They didn't have much trouble against Eastern Michigan last season either, leading by 13 at the half en route to a 75-61 home victory Jan. 5 as Williams finished with 14 points.
While UMass will come into this matchup well-rested after an eight-day layoff, the Eagles (5-1) should be well prepared for a tough test after falling 81-63 at No. 3 Kentucky on Wednesday.
Darell Combs was the only player in double figures with a career-high 23 points off the bench for Eastern Michigan, which has lost 13 straight to ranked opponents since beating No. 21 Michigan on Dec. 17, 1997.
Combs scored 18 points in a win over Texas-Arlington on Nov. 23 after going into that contest averaging 3.5 over the first four.
''I just took it as another game, a regular game, and got mentally ready,'' the first-year guard said. ''I got a good night's rest and I didn't look at it like, `oh, we're playing Kentucky.' I just looked at it as another game and did everything the same that I normally do.''
Karrington Ward averages a team-best 16.0 points followed by Ray Lee's 15.3, but they were held to five and two, respectively, against the Wildcats.
''We just have to move forward, continue to get better,'' coach Rob Murphy said. ''We will learn from this game as we move forward. Each and every practice, each and every game we will get better. We lost to Kentucky, (which) is a top-five team, so like I told my guys in the locker room, it's not the end of the world.''
UMass' last game as a Top 25 team was Nov. 18, 1998, when the 23rd-ranked Minutemen fell 73-69 to St. John's at home.