iki Mayben may still be the starter, but in tight spots in recent games, University of Massachusetts coach Travis Ford has been turning to Chris Lowe at point guard.
After the Minutemen watched a 14-point second half lead disappear at Louisville, Lowe helped take charge steadying the Minutemen who withstood the run on the road and bounced back to win. Lowe had six of his eight points after the Cardinals tied the game.
UMass couldn't pull out a comeback Friday against Kentucky, but Lowe was out there as the Minutemen tried to.
"We have two very good point guards. I play them on how they're playing and how the game is going," Ford said. "I thought (against Kentucky) we had a lot more going with Chris Lowe in there."
Lowe, who was the starter down the stretch last season, lost the job when an offseason arrest for his role in a fight outside an Amherst bar led to a suspension for the team's exhibition game against Bridgeport and opening game against Dartmouth.
Mayben, who sat out last season under NCAA academic rules, thrived in Lowe's absence in the opener with 12 points, 11 assists and three turnovers seemingly cementing himself in the starting lineup. But since that game, Mayben has been inconsistent. He's had some stretches of brilliant play, but he's struggled to find a balance between his ability to make flashy plays and the team's need for him to be steady. Playing defense at the college level is a sometimes difficult adjustment for almost all freshmen and it can be particularly so at point guard.
"Tiki is a typical freshman. He's going to have his ups and downs," Ford said. "Chris Lowe has been through the wars and he understands this. That has a lot to do with this right now."
Lowe struggled coming off the bench earlier this season too. After spending the summer trying to improve his jumpshot, Lowe has struggled from outside. He's gone back to his strengths - driving to the basket - and has 17 points in the past two games.
"It was real hard. I put myself in this predicament by getting in trouble. I just have to fight back and earn the respect of my team," Lowe said. "In the beginning of the season I was struggling to find my niche coming off the bench. I had to get used to that. I'm trying to play hard to get my minutes. I'm just trying to prove myself and get the respect back from my teammates and my coaches."
Ford said he respected how Mayben has handled his struggles. Mayben's reputation prior to UMass was someone who didn't react well when things didn't go right on the court for him. Ford said those days are behind him and praised Mayben's maturity.
"Tiki has handled it great. He's been very supportive of Chris," Ford said. "That's been very important. Tiki's a freshman. He's been put in a tough spot in tough games and we've been playing on the road a lot. He's a very good basketball player, but he's a typical freshman."
Mayben is not alone. Maybe the most encouraging thing for the Minutemen is that several players appear to have more to give. Juniors Gary Forbes, Etienne Brower and freshman Ricky Harris have been good at times and seem to have the capacity to contribute more in conference play.
UMass (9-3) returns to action Thursday against Yale (2-7) at 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. For more UMass coverage including a frequently updated UMass sports blog, go to www.dailyhampshiregazette.com/umsports.