Like many other times this season, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team came close to taking a lead over an opponent, but poor shooting late in the second half against Charlotte made it easy for the 49ers to pull ahead and take UMass out of the game.
The Minutemen opened up on a 10-3 run to put them down one against the 49ers with 16 minutes, 10 seconds left in the second half. However, unlike the last time they were on ESPN against Memphis, there was no dramatic finish at the buzzer to beat Charlotte.
In fact, UMass (8-13, 2-5 Atlantic 10) never cut the deficit down to fewer than nine points since the 11:21 mark and was down by 17 points with 6:26 left.
After the Minutemen came within a point of tying the game, the 49ers (16-5, 6-1 A-10) went on a 15-3 run to increase the lead to 13 points. All three of those points came off of free-throws.
With a 39-36 lead, Charlotte center Phil Jones scored seven-straight points to push the lead back to double-digits for the first time since the opening minute of the second half.
UMass didn’t score a single field goal until center Hashim Bailey finished a layup with 7:32 left in the game. In that stretch, the Minutemen missed nine-straight field goals, four of which were from 3-point range, where they finished 1-for-13 in the second half against Charlotte.
“We didn’t make outside shots,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “We shoot a lot of 3s and quite a few of those were in transition.”
Saturday night was not the only time the Minutemen were taken out of a close game in the second half.
On Dec. 23, UMass was down a point to Boston College at halftime and eventually failed to bounce back after the Eagles went on an 11-2 run. BC finished the game with a 79-67 win.
The Minutemen had a seven-point lead over La Salle on Jan. 10 at the MassMutual Center, but went on to lose that game too. Despite freshman Freddie Riley’s 22 points off the bench, Explorer center Aaric Murray’s strong play in the middle and 6-for-14 free-throw shooting in the second half gave the Maroon and White an 80-74 loss.
Part of the reason for the offensive struggles against the 49ers came because of how Charlotte adjusted in the second half; they went with a zone, which forced the Minutemen to take tougher shots.
Charlotte made more shots on fewer attempts (21-for-52) than UMass (24-for-70).
Senior Ricky Harris (25 points, 11-for-24 from the field) was the only Minuteman who didn’t struggle with his shot. The remaining guards (Riley, Anthony Gurley, David Gibbs and Gary Correia) went 19 percent from the field and missed all 10 attempts from beyond the arc.
“We have to make some better decisions against a zone,” Kellogg said. “We’ve actually went against a zone more in the last week, and I’ve made [more] changes than I ever have as a player or as a coach.”
But the Minutemen have struggled to shoot well all season.
UMass is 13th in the league with 40 percent from the field and 12th from 3-point range at 29 percent. They also shot below 20 percent from beyond the arc in three of the last four games.
UMass finished the game with a 14.3 3-point percentage, the lowest for the Minutemen all season. Harris, who had difficulties finding his shot until recently, said the biggest problem with his team’s shooting is its lack of confidence.
“We just have to start shooting with confidence and raising it up and knocking down shots,” Harris said.
Adam Miller can be reached at email@example.com.