Ypsilanti, MI (SportsNetwork.com) - The 21st-ranked Massachusetts Minutemen will try to keep their unblemished ledger intact in their first true road contest of the season, as they visit the Eastern Michigan Eagles on Tuesday night.
UMass has made a splash in the first month of the season with a perfect 6-0 record, which includes a championship run in the Charleston Classic with wins over Nebraska (96-90), New Mexico (81-65) and Clemson (62-56). When pairing those victories with strong triumphs over Boston College (86-73) and LSU (92-90), it's no surprise the Minutemen have found themselves ranked in the Top-25 for the first time since 1998.
Although its start is clearly overshadowed by that of UMass, Eastern Michigan has enjoyed a great first few weeks of the campaign as it comes in at 5-1, with its only loss coming in a road bout against nationally-ranked Kentucky on Nov. 27, 81-63. The Eagles are surely happy to return to the Convocation Center, where they have won all five matchups this season.
These two team met up last season in Amherst, with UMass claiming a 75-61 victory to improve to 2-0 in the all-time series.
The Minutemen had to grind it out in the championship game of the Charleston Classic, as they shot just 39.7 percent from the floor, but they managed to hold Clemson to less than 36 percent as they held on for the six-point victory. Cady Lalanne was the catalyst, setting the tone in the paint with 20 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks. Derrick Gordon added 10 points, and while Chaz Williams finished with six assists and three steals, he was a dreadful 1- of-12 from the field. The lackluster shooting performance was not typical of what UMass has done this season, as it makes its field goals at 47.2 percent efficiency for 83.7 points per game, 9.9 points more than it allows. Lalanne (17.2 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 2.7 bpg) has been outstanding, shooting 62.3 percent from the floor, while Williams (16.0 ppg, 6.3 apg) has been impressive despite a mere 39.4 percent efficiency rating Sampson Carter (13.8 ppg), Raphiael Putney (11.8 ppg) and Derrick Gordon (11.2 ppg) round out one of the top starting lineups in the country.
The Eagles were very impressive at Kentucky early in their latest game, as they went into intermission trailing by just three, but they quickly lost control after halftime to fall by 18 points. It was a disappointing shooting effort for the Eagles, who went just 24-of-66 from the floor (.364), including 4-of-19 from beyond the arc. Darell Combs was the only player to finish in double figures, as he netted 23 points in just 20 minutes off the bench. EMU's tall task against one of the better teams in the country aside, it has been very effective this season, scoring 13.5 points per game more than it allows while also boasting an elite +6.5 turnover margin. Karrington Ward (16.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg) acts as the go-to scoring option in the early going, Raven Lee (15.3 ppg) is hot on Ward's heels and he has made 10-of-21 from 3-point range. Glenn Bryant (11.4 ppg) is also a solid scorer, while Da'Shonte Riley is a difference-maker on defense with 4.5 blocks per contest.