Also see: UMass uses 2nd half surge to beat Temple
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – A week after earning a trip to Boardwalk Hall, Massachusetts men’s basketball team coach Derek Kellogg secured arguably the biggest win of his tenure with a thrilling 77-71 win over No. 21 Temple in the Atlantic 10 tournament quarterfinals.
In doing so, UMass dethroned the top-seeded Owls (24-7), and sent the A-10 tournament favorites home early.
“I feel really confident with this team, and I enjoyed watching the game today, I thought it was a great basketball game,” said Kellogg.
Jesse Morgan scored 16 of his game-high 21 points in the second half, and hit two clutch free throws down the stretch to ensure a UMass victory. Morgan was the difference-maker in the second half, after he was limited to seven minutes in the first half due to foul trouble.
Morgan credited his second half performance to words of encouragement from his teammates.
“My teammates encouraging me [and] just telling me, ‘Keep my head, keep playing and go’ [and] it worked out,” said Morgan.
Fellow guard Chaz Williams added 20 points, and also added to the cause with his work from the charity stripe.
With a three-point lead, Morgan and Williams went 5-for-6 over the last 40 seconds and eliminated any possibility of a Temple comeback.
“I’m proud of the way we fought there in the second half. I thought we played with everything we had,” said Kellogg.
The pivotal juncture of the game came in the first three minutes of the second half. The Minutemen trailed Temple 36-31 after the first, but they flipped the tables on the Owls in a matter of minutes.
UMass scored 15 straight points to open up the half, and turned a five-point deficit into a 10-point lead in the first four minutes, four seconds of the second half. Morgan led the Minutemen during the stretch with seven points.
The 10-point lead didn’t last long though, as Temple’s Ramone Moore dragged his team back into the game with back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the deficit to six. With 11:25 seconds remaining, the lead shrunk to three due to consecutive baskets by Juan Fernandez and Khalif Wyatt.
Both teams battled for the lead over the next three minutes, but the Owls began to pull away thanks to a Fernandez 3-pointer that gave his team a 61-57 lead.
In the back-and-forth affair, UMass retook a one-point advantage, behind five straight points by Williams. The Minutemen pushed that lead to four at the 4:10 mark when Williams set up Javorn Farrell on the left wing for a 3-pointer.
“With four minutes and some change, we didn’t have any timeouts left and I told the guys, ‘This is exactly where I want to be, it’s up to you guys now,’” said Kellogg.
With less than two minutes remaining, Temple had possession of the ball with the chance to cut into a three-point UMass lead. Moore rose for the game-tying 3-pointer, but Morgan dislodged the ball before he got the attempt off.
Morgan came up with the loose ball, and rushed to the other end of the court for what appeared to be an open layup. However, Morgan’s dunk attempt clanked off the back rim. Fortunately for the Minutemen, Farrell was trailing the play. He grabbed Morgan’s miss and reset the offense, which forced the Owls into foul mode, and just like it has arguably done all season, UMass hit free throws down the stretch.
UMass hung with Temple in the first half despite shooting 38 percent from the field, and missing four of its eight free throw attempts.
For the most part, Owls guard T.J. Dileo hung with Williams in the half as he limited the Minutemen’s point guard to just seven points on six shots in the half. Dileo did not start a game all season, but took the starting spot of Khalif Wyatt, who started on the bench due to disciplinary issues.
Maxie Esho provided a spark off the bench for UMass as he also tossed in all seven of his points in the half, including his second 3-pointer of the season.
Wyatt led the Owls off the bench with 15 points, while Moore (14 points), Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson (13 points) and Fernandez (12 points) also chipped in.
The Minutemen now face the winner of the St. Bonaventure-Saint Joseph’s game, which began directly after UMass’ game. They’ll play Saturday at 1 p.m.
“I’m hoping that we can make a little noise down here,” said Kellogg.
Little does he know, his team has already made a commotion.
Jackson Alexander can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @MDC_Alexander.