UMass basketball: Matt Cross, Daniel Hankins-Sanford make plays late as Minutemen win at Davidson for first time since 1998

UMass forward Daniel Hankins-Sanford (1), right, puts up a shot in the paint over CCSU forward Abdul Momoh (11) earlier this season at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

UMass forward Daniel Hankins-Sanford (1), right, puts up a shot in the paint over CCSU forward Abdul Momoh (11) earlier this season at the Mullins Center in Amherst. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 03-02-2024 5:22 PM

Trailing by three points with under a minute to go, the UMass men’s basketball team turned to one player to carry them to a comeback victory.

That would be Matt Cross, who nailed four consecutive free throws as part of his game-high 26 points to boost the Minutemen ahead and propel them to a 69-67 road victory over Davidson on Saturday afternoon at Belk Arena in Davidson, N.C.

It was the program’s first road win at Davidson since 1998.

After Jayden Ndjigue’s layup was blocked with 54 seconds left, the Wildcats darted the other direction looking for a two-possession lead instead of slowing it down and using clock. Davidson’s Grant Huffman forced a long pass ahead to Reed Bailey, whose momentum took him out of bounds and forced him to save the ball back in. 

Waiting there was Keon Thompson, who took it the other direction and found Cross. The senior forward drew a foul and knocked down two from the line to make it 66-65 Wildcats. On the next possession, Cross came up with a steal and was immediately fouled – earning him another trip to the stripe.

Two more swishes gave UMass a one-point edge.

The Minutemen earned three stops in a row – with a free-throw make each from Jaylen Curry and Cross in between – to close out Davidson on the road.

“Daniel Hankins and Matt Cross, those two guys in the second half... they were relentless,” UMass coach Frank Martin said. “We survived at the end. We figured it out, I guess. For us to survive on the road is a credit to our team.”

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Despite shooting just 36 percent from the field and being outscored 50-32 in the paint, UMass out-rebounded the Wildcats 45-31, including a whopping 20-7 discrepancy on the offensive glass.

Daniel Hankins-Sanford was huge in that department, as his monster 10-point, 12-board double-double encompassed six offensive rebounds. The sophomore gave UMass the exact spark it needed off the bench.

“I'm really happy for him,” Martin said. “Daniel is a fun kid and has a great personality. He's just trying to find peace and joy and he’s growing. He's playing his tail off for us and that's a credit to him and his teammates that have helped him. He's been so willing to be patient but continue to fight and battle.”

Elsewhere, Rahsool Diggins cashed in four 3s and a free throw en route to 13 points, Curry (four rebounds, two assists) and Josh Cohen (eight rebounds, two assists) each tossed in eight points while Ndjigue put up four points while grabbing five boards and blocking three shots.

Bailey led Davidson in scoring with 22 points, Connor Kochera put up 16 and Grant Huffman added 14 points and nine dimes as the Wildcats beat UMass backdoor at will throughout the game.

“We're a deny team... when you're a deny team, people prepare for it and they're going to attack you,” said Martin. “They caught us on the backdoor and we can't make that mistake... the other stuff, they run all kinds of screens off the ball and try to create confusion. Our freshmen, they continued to gamble, ran us out of plays and they put us in a tough spot.”

UMass (19-10, 10-7) has reached double-digit conference wins for the first time since 2015, and currently has its most wins in a season since 2014. A 20-win season is a strong possibility for a team that was picked to finish 14th out of 15 in the preseason Atlantic 10 poll.

“I’ll tell ya… 19 wins, 10 league wins, I ain't worried about nonsense right now,” Martin said.

In order to get there, however, UMass has to beat Fordham in its regular season finale this Wednesday at the Mullins Center. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m.