The Massachusetts men’s basketball team might now have to try to clinch an Atlantic 10 Tournament birth without one of its best players, and could rely on another team losing just to get by.
The Minutemen (10-19, 4-11 A-10) fell to La Salle Wednesday night, 89-78, at the Tom Gola Arena, and lost forward Terrell Vinson to a left ankle injury early on in the second half.
UMass must now win against Rhode Island Saturday or have Saint Joseph’s lose at home to the Explorers.
The Hawks defeated George Washington on Wednesday night, hurting UMass’ postseason hopes, as the Minutemen could have clinched with an SJU loss.
“I’m not a big man on excuses, but he’s become a guy we rely on,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said of Vinson. “He has been rebounding the ball, and he is one of our tougher players, and anyone who has watched our team knows he is one of our primary options, so I hope his ankle is alright for Saturday.”
Vinson finished the night with eight points on 4-of-4 shooting, while grabbing three rebounds in 11 minutes before leaving the game.
“We don’t really know too much, I think it was a sprain, so I’m happy it wasn’t severe,” Kellogg said. “We need him to get better and to establish himself because he is one of the better freshmen in the league, but we made runs without him.”
Senior guard Ricky Harris led the game with 31 points, including hitting a career-high eight 3-pointers, while A-10 leading scorer Rodney Green scored 30 for the Explorers in a match-up featuring the two leading scorers on the Explorers’ Senior Night.
“Ricky’s a very emotional guy, and it was a tough loss, and he wants a chance to play in an A-10 tournament his senior year,” Kellogg said. “He gave it everything he had, and I gave him the green light, and he deserves it. Nineteen threes are a few to many, but he had a lot of good looks.”
Harris went 11-of-26 from the field and 8-of-19 from beyond the arc while finishing with seven rebounds, three steals and five assists.
With Harris’ 3-pointers, the Minutemen set a school record of 39 attempts, while shooting 41 percent from the field.
Along with Harris, freshman guard Freddie Riley and Sampson Carter had nine points each, while Sean Carter and Anthony Gurley had seven and eight points respectively.
“I’m frustrated with the way the outcome went, and there were a few plays we didn’t come up with the ball or make the right play,” Kellogg said. “We pride ourselves on making it to the free throw line and we didn’t do that tonight.”
The Minutemen went 11-of-19 from the line, while the Explorers were 28-of-38. La Salle also scored 22 points off turnovers and 38 points in the paint, while scoring 14 fast break points.
The Minutemen complete their regular season when they take on Rhode Island at the Mullins Center this Saturday at 4 p.m.
The Rams are coming off an 80-58 win over Charlotte on Wednesday evening as Delroy James paced URI with 13 points, eight rebounds and four steals, while Keith Cothran led the way with 18 points.
UMass fell to the Rams back on Feb. 6, 93-85, as Harris led the way with 32 points. The Minutemen erased a late 24-point deficit, scoring 21 points late in the second half to come within six points, but could not break even.
This will be the 134th meeting between the two teams, with the Minutemen winning 32 of the past 45 meetings, including four of the last six.
Gurley was second on the team with 15, while Carter added 11 in the loss against URI.
David Brinch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.