The Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s climb out of a four-game slump took a serious hit against La Salle yesterday.
On the road against the Explorers (13-16, 5-9 A-10), the Minutemen (15-12, 7-7 A-10) fell, 72-51, in its worst loss in conference play this season. Senior guard Anthony Gurley had his lowest scoring performance of the season, notching just four points.
“La Salle – from the… second the ball went up, to the last second on the clock – outplayed us,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said in a radio interview following the game. “We didn’t do the things we had [been doing] when we started playing a little better.”
Sunday’s performance saw a complete failure from the Minuteman offense. Gurley – who had started to rise out of his shooting slump in his past two contests – was held to four points against the Explorers.
Similar to how the team had performed during its previous four-game skid, guard Jesse Morgan (eight points) and forward Raphiael Putney (nine points, five rebounds) raised their games to lead the team.
Other than Putney and Morgan, little could be said about the UMass offense that went 17-for-57 from the field, including shooting below 26 percent from beyond the arc. Freshman Jordan Couture scored his first career basket with a pair of free throws.
Freddie Riley also made his return to the court, scoring seven points in 16 minutes. Riley couldn’t catch fire though to bail out the sputtering offense.
“[La Salle] made us really take bad shots on the offensive end,” Kellogg said.
Another ingredient contributing to the loss was turnovers. La Salle scored 19 points off turnovers, compared to the Minutemen’s four points.
Defensively, the Minutemen couldn’t get things done, as La Salle had four double-digit scorers in Aaric Murray (16 points), Jerrell Williams (14 points), Ruben Guillandeaux (12 points) and Earl Pettis (11 points).
The Explorers also nabbed more rebounds than the Minutemen (57-33), which included La Salle grabbing 24 offensive boards to help them score on second-chance opportunities.
“[They played] tough and just absolutely killed us on the glass,” Kellogg said. “You’re not going to beat anybody getting outrebounded by 24.”
Additionally, UMass couldn’t rely on its typical strengths. Throughout the season, the Minutemen and their scorers have found ways to put in points from the paint. Sunday’s game saw the opposite, as the Explorers had a 24-14 edge in the paint.
Right after Pettis’ 3-pointer and less than a minute into the game, the Minutemen fell victim to La Salle’s offensive wrath. By the end of the first half, the Explorers had nearly doubled UMass’ point total, leading 48-25 at the break.
Despite their efforts, the Minutemen couldn’t find a way to mount a comeback.
“There wasn’t one thing that we tried … we never could just get over the hump and make that run,” Kellogg said.
The second half was slightly better for the Minutemen, as the Maroon and White outscored the Explorers, 26-24, with 13 points coming from bench players. A deficit which had been at 24 points in the first half was downed to as little as 14 in the second after a 9-0 UMass run which featured a pair 3-pointers from guard Gary Correia and a 3-pointer from Gurley.
However, the Explorers came right back with a 23-6 run to finish out the game, a run that included an 11-0 push by La Salle.
The loss doesn’t paint a pretty picture for UMass, which takes on No. 24 Temple Wednesday.
“We’re going to have to regroup and get ready for a tough Temple team on Wednesday and see if we can play a little bit better,” Kellogg said.
Whatever the result may be, Wednesday’s game is the Minutemen’s final home game of the regular season and will also be senior night at the Mullins Center.
Herb Scribner can be reached at email@example.com.