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It may be time for UMass men’s basketball fans to forgive

UMass coach Matt McCall credits an unselfish approach by his players for their recent success.
UMass coach Matt McCall credits an unselfish approach by his players for their recent success.John Minchillo/Associated Press

This is about forgiveness. Can you be a forgiving person? What are the circumstances and time frame for granting forgiveness?

I’m talking about you, UMass fans. The loss to Bryant a month ago was inexplicable, unexpected, and painful. It ignited a Twitter storm among fans about coach Matt McCall.

What does it take to forgive that?

Maybe a win over Rhode Island? How about being in first place in the Atlantic 10? How about the best start in conference play since 2013-14?

The Minutemen are tied with Saint Bonaventure for first place after a three-game winning streak followed losses to Bryant (known more for its business school than basketball but definitely a threat to make the NCAA Tournament) and George Mason (they blew leads in the final minutes of regulation and overtime).

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The winning streak includes an emotional, hard-fought victory over Rhode Island and a devastating first half against Fordham that was almost Gonzaga-like.

Is it time to move on? Based on the winning streak, it seems the team has. McCall is clear about the reasons for the recent success.

“Our effort, our unselfishness,” he said after the Fordham win. “Our willingness to make the right play and share the basketball. Those are the two keys, starting with our effort and our approach, even in practice leading up to this.”

The Rhode Island win was a feisty affair; the Minutemen again failed to protect a late lead and had to win in overtime. The final buzzer set off an on-court celebration and also led to some jawing. The teams had to be separated. It’s definitely a rivalry.

“It was a great win for our program,” said McCall. “We have not had much success against Rhode Island. We beat them one time since I’ve been here.”

It’s been stated before: The Minutemen revolve around center Tre Mitchell, an all-league player. They need other contributions, and they‘re starting to get them, especially from freshman forward Ronnie DeGray and sophomore point guard Noah Fernandes.

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How will the rest of the season play out for Matt McCall and his team?
How will the rest of the season play out for Matt McCall and his team?J. Anthony Roberts/The Republican via AP

“These guys love to work, they love to be in the gym,” said McCall. “Tre Mitchell is 30 minutes early to shootaround, going through a full individual [workout]. I walk out on the floor and he’s a full lather, a full sweat. Thirty minutes before our shootaround.

“We have so many guys who are like that — super competitive, driven, motivated, want to get better, and want to win.’'

That has been happening, but there are difficult games ahead. The Minutemen were scheduled to face Saint Louis, clearly the best team in the league, on Wednesday, but the game was postponed because of COVID-19 protocols.

Their next game will be against Davidson in the Mullins Center Sunday, followed by a trip to Virginia Commonwealth. Both will be difficult games. A win at VCU would go a long way with UMass fans.

McCall has put the Bryant loss behind him, although he can recount the reasons for it, including it being the last game before Christmas, which he says “is the most terrifying game for a coach.”

Northeastern’s amazing start: The Huskies are no longer just contenders in the Colonial Athletic Association, they’re solid favorites after sweeping Charleston in a pair of close games over the weekend. They are 6-0 in the league and hold at least a three-game lead over most of the teams.

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James Madison, struck by a COVID-19 pause, has played only one league game. The Dukes come to Boston this weekend for two games. If Northeastern can pull off another sweep, it will be firmly in control.

As a reminder: This is totally unexpected.

“This group has come together quickly and without expectation,” said Northeastern coach Bill Coen. “They have toughness and grit all the way around. This group has shown time and time again the type of resiliency that you want to see as a coach. They never stop believing in themselves and their teammates.”

This group also could deliver Coen to the top of the Northeastern coaching list. He has 248 wins; the leader is Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun at 250.

BC’s inconsistency: The Eagles played one of their best games of the season last week in blasting Miami, 84-62. Coach Jim Christian was hoping it was the start of something, saying, “It was a huge step forward. We’ve got to keep building.”

Then his team disappointed him again, losing a winnable game at Notre Dame.

Boston College head coach Jim Christian calls to his bench during a timeout against Notre Dame.
Boston College head coach Jim Christian calls to his bench during a timeout against Notre Dame.Robert Franklin/Associated Press

“We competed,” he said, “but there’s a difference between competing and understanding what it takes to win on the road.”

Two strange aspects connected to this. BC played better against Miami without its best player, Wynston Tabbs. Make no mistake, however, they need him. Meanwhile, Miami turned around and beat Louisville, 78-72.

BU’s season slipping away: The Terriers, beset by injuries, got swept by Army and are 1-5. There’s probably no coming back.

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They were never in Saturday’s game, losing, 79-59.

Coach Joe Jones pointed the finger at himself, saying, “I have to take full responsibility for my team. We were terrible again tonight. If the team can’t go out and do the things we talked about, I have to take responsibility.

“I have to find a way to get to them and have them fully understand what it takes to be successful. We’re not there.”

It was a little better Sunday, as guards Javante McCoy and Jonas Harper returned from injury, but Army still won, 76-65. Jones saw it as a positive.

“I was proud of our guys today; I thought they battled,” he said. “It looked more like what we should look like. We took a step today getting Javante and Jonas back in the lineup, something to building on to get our identity back.

“We’re throwing these guys out there who haven’t even practiced, trying to win the game.

“We’ve got a good enough team to win games, we just have to get over the hump.”

There are only 10 games left on the Terriers’ abbreviated schedule, and eight are on the road.

Joe Sullivan can be reached at josephsullivan1974@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeSullivan