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May 10, 2017

Minutemen drop home opener to Big Red

Maxwell Sparr

Maxwell Sparr

The University of Massachusetts men’s basketball team tangled with the Ivy League’s defending champions last night, and played formidably in a 74-61 loss against a more experienced and disciplined Cornell team.

The Minutemen were never out of contention, as their aggressive play kept the Big Red honest. However, their assertiveness on the offensive end led to costly turnovers, allowing Cornell to dictate the pace of the game and maintain its lead.

“We have to value the basketball,” senior guard Ricky Harris said. “Our turnovers killed us.”

UMass played sloppily on the offensive end, unable to move the ball swiftly and committing unforced turnovers. The Minutemen gave the ball away in many different ways, committing four travels as well as a charging foul and a shot clock violation.

The Big Red scored 25 points off of 20 UMass turnovers in the game, including 16 points off turnovers in the first half.

UMass played an aggressive game, moving up the floor quickly and attacking the basket with the dribble. The Minutemen saw a number of good looks around the rim, but had trouble putting them in.

Scoring started out slow in the first half, as neither team shot well from the floor.

The Minutemen caused Cornell troubles on defense, forcing them into bad shots and dominating on the boards. UMass held a 25-10 advantage on the glass after 20 minutes, but it was miscues that ended up being too much for them to overcome.

Freddy Riley was a big spark off of the Minutemen bench, scoring six points on his first three attempts. The freshman forced the Big Red into calling a quick timeout following a transition lay-up to bring UMass within two points, 19-17, with seven minutes to play.

UMass had trouble spreading the scoring around in the first half, as 22 of the Minutemen’s 28 points came from four players. Guards Riley, Harris, and Anthony Gurley as well as Terrell Vinson combined to go 8-for-15, while the rest of the team went 1-11.

UMass controlled Cornell’s two top-scorers, as center Jeff Foote and forward Ryan Whittman were scoreless from the field in the first half, managing four points between them. The Big Red started the scoring in the second half, looking poised to break away from the pesky Minutemen.

Louis Dale led the Big Red to a 50-38 advantage with 12:41 remaining, draining three long-range shots on three attempts, and finishing the game with a team-high 24 points on 9-of-17 shooting.

Just when it looked like Cornell was going to run away with it, six straight points by Harris brought UMass back in. Harris hit three of five free throw attempts and drained a three-point basket from the corner to bring the Minutemen back in the game, 50-44, with 10:42 left.

A dunk by Foote silenced the anticipating crowd and the Big Red began to gain back momentum after two offensive rebounds sent Geoff Reeves to the line. UMass coach Derek Kellogg felt that play changed the complexion of the game.

“Our inexperience showed. We didn’t check out, they got the rebound and went to the foul line,” Kellogg said. “Really, I thought that was the turning point in the game.”

The Big Red weathered the Minutemen attack, as the lead never dipped below seven points from there on.

Yet, the ability to maintain pressure and rebound the ball kept UMass afloat in throughout the game, to Kellogg’s liking.

“We executed quite a few parts of our game plan tonight,” Kellogg said.

His star guard also agreed with him.

“I feel as though we played better,” said Harris. “But there are still strides that we can make.”

The Minutemen’s next opponent is against Arkansas-Fort Smith on Saturday.

UA Fort Smith competed against Division I opponents in its two exhibition matches and has many games on its schedule against top-tier teams.

The Lions triumphed in their regular season opener on Tuesday against the Division III Ozarks, winning handily, 87-65. Junior guard Josh Simmons recorded a game-high 28 points on 11-for-17 shooting. Junior Chris Williams added a double-double to the effort. The 6-foot-5 forward tallied 12 points while snatching 11 rebounds.

UA Fort Smith shot 54.2 percent from the field including a blistering 69.2 percent in the second half.

There will likely be a lot of 3-pointers shot in this game as the Lions shot effectively beyond the arc in their home-opener, going 12-for-20 on the night (60 percent) led by Simmons who converted on 4-of-7 attempts.

On the defensive end, UA Fort Smith held the Eagles to 36.4 percent from the floor. It created 17 turnovers on the night, including 10 steals.

Daniel Gigliotti can be reached at dgigliot@student.umass.edu.

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