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May 9, 2016

Rough first half dooms Minutemen

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

BOSTON –  In an electric environment at the TD Garden, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team struggled in the first half, ultimately leading to its first loss of the season.

While the Minutemen have come out flat at times in the early going this season, UMass coach Derek Kellogg attributed his team’s slow start  to something different after a 76-71 loss to Boston College.

“I thought they were over-anxious,” Kellogg said of his players. “I mean, guys missed two-footers and layups and all sorts of things.”

“I don’t know if it was the bright lights or the crowd or what it was, but I thought we rushed early in the first half. We missed a bunch of easy shots and that gave BC some confidence and also deflated our team a tad.”

UMass didn’t score its first point of the contest until the 14 minute, 24 second mark of the opening period on an Anthony Gurley layup. Despite trouncing the Eagles (6-2) in points in the paint, 53-33, the Minutemen missed six layups in the first half alone.

BC forced a half-court style of play to open the game, which changed in the second half as UMass opened up the floor and earned baskets in transition. Though the Minutemen finished the contest with twice as many fast break points as the Eagles (8-4), they all came in the later stages of the loss.

“In the first half, Boston College did a great job really taking us out of our tempo and how we play,” Kellogg said. “We forced some shots and really didn’t ever get in a flow.”

Another factor in UMass’ slow start was foul trouble. Four Minutemen finished the game with three or more fouls, including Gurley, the team’s leading scorer.

The senior was benched for the final stretch of the first half after picking up his second foul with 6:24 remaining as UMass trailed, 20-19. He watched the rest of the period from the sidelines as the Eagles went on a 15-5 run to increase their lead.

Gurley woke up in the second half, scoring 20 of his 22 points to help bring the Minutemen back within two points on four different occasions. Despite not being able to attain the lead at any point in the game, Gurley liked that his team put up a fight.

“We had a lot of guys in foul trouble…but I think it showed that we’re very resilient,” Gurley said. “We fought back in the second half. It just shows the character of our team, we won’t quit until the buzzer sounds.”

While the UMass defense held BC to nine field goals in the first half, the offense also made nine baskets (9-for-30) on 30 percent shooting, resulting in a 35-24 halftime deficit.

The Minutemen also scored 24 points in the first half of their season opener against Rider, a game which they won after trailing by 22 points early in the second period. UMass had a similar first-half shooting performance in that contest, netting just 8-of-24 field goals.

Though Kellogg was pleased with the comeback, he said following the game that his team can’t afford to place itself in such holes and expect to come out with a victory. A poor start against the Eagles proved just that, as the Minutemen fought back but could never get over the hump.

As UMass’ schedule gets tougher with conference foes on the horizon, Kellogg will look to improve his team’s focus to begin games.

“When we’re on a big stage like this, maybe we’ll have to do something differently,” he said.

Jay Asser can be reached at jasser@student.umass.edu.

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