If last night’s contest between the Massachusetts men’s basketball team and No. 23 Temple is the final matchup in the storied rivalry, it ended in grand fashion.
Trailing 90-88 with 10 seconds remaining in overtime, Jesse Morgan’s runner rimmed out and Maxie Esho’s put-back attempt wouldn’t fall as the Owls stole a victory away from the Minutemen at the Liacouras Center. The 63rd meeting between the two sides may be the last in an intense Atlantic 10 rivalry as speculation continues to mount about Temple’s potential jump to the Big East conference as early as next season.
UMass (19-10, 8-7 A-10) held an 86-80 advantage with 2:13 left to play in the extra frame, but the Owls capitalized on six trips to the free throw line – sinking 6-for-9 attempts from the charity stripe – while the Minutemen failed to get to the line in the last two minutes. Khaliff Wyatt finished a breakaway lay-up with 16 seconds remaining to make it a 90-88 game, which proved to be the game-winning basket.
Temple (23-8, 12-3 A-10) appeared to have the game in hand as regulation winded down, holding a 77-67 lead with two minutes remaining. But UMass put together a valiant run, scoring 13 of the final 16 points to force overtime. Freddie Riley drained a pair of clutch 3-pointers, including a fade-away in front of the Minutemen bench, to cut the deficit to one with 51 seconds left.
After the Owls failed to ice UMass at the free throw line down the stretch, Raphiael Putney collected an offensive board and banked home a lay-in to knot the score at 80, then rejected Juan Fernandez’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer to send the game to overtime.
Despite the disappointing result, UMass coach Derek Kellogg was proud of the way his team fought the entire night coming off its 33-point beatdown at Dayton on Saturday.
“That was an unbelievable game. I thought our kids fought to the end. That was an NCAA tournament-level game,” said Kellogg in a postgame radio interview following the game. “The one thing I found out about my team is that after laying an egg at Dayton, they came out and fought their butts off. I’m actually proud of these guys. I thought they were unbelievable tonight.”
Chaz Williams dictated the pace of the entire 45 minutes, finishing with 26 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds at the helm of the Minutemen offense. Terrell Vinson had the hot hand in the early going, scoring 16 points –14 coming in the first half – despite fouling out with 3:52 to play in regulation.
Wyatt was the catalyst for Temple with his team-high 26 points including 17 from the free throw line out of a staggering 18 attempts. The junior had more shots from the charity stripe than the entire UMass squad (10 attempts).
The Owls had the edge at the free throw line all night long, going 30-for-40 from the stripe compared to the Minutemen’s 6-for-10.
“They shot 40 free throws to our 10. Come on. I mean, that’s tough to overcome,” said Kellogg. “We put them to the line some, but I just thought they had an advantage at the free throw line.”
The game was tied at 58 with less than nine minutes to play in regulation when UMass started to shoot itself in the foot. The Minutemen scored just two points in the next 5:13, with most possessions ending in rushed shots or turnovers, including a technical foul by Kellogg.
“I just thought a few immature basketball plays, I think, cost us the game tonight,” he said.
With the loss, UMass is eliminated from contention for a potential first round bye in the A-10 tournament. If the Minutemen win their final game against Rhode Island, they will have a home game on March 6 to start the tournament.
UMass tips off with URI this Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Mullins Center in its regular season finale.
Stephen Sellner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @MDC_Sellner.