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Ricky Harris’ 23 points not enough against Saint Louis

Another solid performance by guard Ricky Harris did little to offset Saint Louis, as it shrugged off a first-half scare by the Massachusetts men’s basketball team to win, 69-56.

After scoring less than 20 points for the first time since UMass played Baylor on Jan. 23, the senior finished with a game-high 23 points. But the Minutemen (10-17, 4-9 Atlantic 10) defense couldn’t stop the Billikens from having four players in double-figures.

SLU’s Kyle Cassity (16 points) led his team in scoring with 5-of-8 shooting while forward Willie Reed added 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting. A particular play Reed made shifted the momentum toward the Billikens, according to UMass coach Derek Kellogg.

They had a three-point lead with 12 minutes, 56 seconds left in the game as he tipped in a shot with one second left on the shot clock. SLU (18-8, 9-3 A-10) eventually built its lead to 13 points.

“That was a good designed play by them where they just threw it about as high as you can and he did a nice job of getting it in,” Kellogg said. “We had played great defense up until that point, so that was definitely a momentum changer.”

The Billikens finished the game with 48.1 percent shooting from the field and 39.3 percent from 3-point range. However, Kellogg said it was their defense that was the deciding factor in his team’s loss.

The Minutemen had their second lowest point total of the season and their first time scoring less than 60 points in all of February. UMass’ worse offensive night was against the Bears, who at the time were ranked 25th in the nation.

“Coach [Rick] Majerus’s teams have always played good defense,” Kellogg said. “They chest you up and they play physical and you have to make a physical, tough play to get a basket.”

UMass hoped to take advantage of what Majerus called, “the youngest team in the nation” when it went on a first-half run to cut the Billikens’ double-digit lead to one point.

The Minutemen were up 13-11 with 13:07 left in the first half until SLU went on a 13-0 run with two 3-pointers from Ellis Cody. With 7:22 left in the half, freshman Terrell Vinson finally stopped St. Louis’s run on a lay-up.

UMass eventually caught up to the Billikens in the last 5:30 with a 14-4 run to end the half down 30-29. The last time the Minutemen got that close was when they were down 42-41 just over five minutes into the second half.

“I don’t want to say we got complacent, but we kind of let our foot off the petal a little bit, but we have got to start coming out in games more because we’re not as talented as a lot of teams in this conference, so there’s a lot of stuff that we have got to do differently,” Harris said.

UMass now has a week off before heading to Ohio on Saturday to face Dayton, who just lost its fifth game of the A-10 schedule to Duquesne yesterday. Kellogg is hoping to use this long stretch to regroup the players and make sure his team, that started three freshmen against the Billikens, doesn’t get burned out.

“I know that when you’re playing a lot of freshmen and first-year guys a lot of minutes and the season is starting to drag on, that they start hitting a wall and I don’t want these guys to hit a wall,” Kellogg said. “I have got to make sure that we fight through any fatigue and also that they get enough rest.”

Adam Miller can be reached at amiller@dailycollegian.com.

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