If it wasn’t obvious before, it should be now.
The Massachusetts men’s basketball team is anything but a finished product. After two buzzer-beating wins to start the season that may have masked such an assertion, back-to-back losses can now provide members of the team with a wake-up call – letting them know that nothing will come easy to them over a long, grueling season filled with so many expectations.
On Sunday, the Minutemen, playing their fourth game in six days to start the season, were anything but sharp and simply couldn’t find any consistency in an 83-69 loss to Tennessee that ended their three-game trip to Puerto Rico on a sour note.
Volunteers forward Jarnell Stokes was a force inside all afternoon against the Minutemen frontcourt, as he led the way with a game-high 24 points and 12 rebounds, six of which he pulled down on the offensive glass.
“He’s one of the better big guys in the country because of his size, his pure athleticism and strength,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “I thought at times, we did a good job on him. We doubled him and made him work. Other times he knocked us out of the way.
“I thought they did a nice job of really dominating the paint tonight. They beat us pretty good on the boards.”
UMass (2-2), although it may have had tired legs after so much traveling and playing in a short amount of time, came out strong to begin the game. Chaz Williams connected with Raphiael Putney on an alley-oop off the tip to begin the game, and suffocating defensive pressure helped the Minutemen gain a 4-0 lead in the game’s first 30 seconds.
Unfortunately for the team, however, they couldn’t quite mirror that kind of energy for the rest of the game.
The Volunteers (3-1) ultimately took control, leading by as much as seven in the first half and never relinquishing their lead until Jesse Morgan drained a pull-up 3-pointer with nine minutes, 42 seconds left in the second half. But the Minutemen couldn’t hold on to it, and Tennessee went on a 13-0 run down the stretch to put the game out of reach.
“I thought they took the game over a little bit right there,” Kellogg said. “It was as much about UMass as it was Tennessee. They did a good job and had a good game plan, but some of the shots and plays we made are not characteristic of the team.”
Much of UMass’ woes could be chalked up to foul trouble. The Minutemen were whistled for 29 fouls in the game, including a number of offensive infractions. Putney fouled out, while Williams, Terrell Vinson, Maxie Esho and Jesse Morgan each were assessed withfour fouls.
“I’ve got to figure out why we’re fouling so much,” Kellogg said. “Is it our style of play, are we grabbing too much, holding them, I want to see where those calls are so I make sure we rectify them.
“We can’t win if they’re in the 1-and-1with 15 minutes left in the first half and 12 minutes in the second half – that’s impossible.”
Williams nearly recorded a triple-double with 16 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, but missed a good chunk of the second half due to foul trouble. He picked up his fourth foul with 14:53 to go in the game after he missed a dunk and was then whistled going for a steal.
But even in Williams’ absence, the Minutemen hung tough. Freshman point guard Trey Davis took over for Williams and more than held his own as he eventually helped UMass come back and regain the lead on the Morgan 3-pointer.
After that, however, UMass went cold. After Morgan sank two free throws with 8:28 left, the Minutemen didn’t score any points until the 4:32 mark and didn’t make another field goal until there was 3:44 left in regulation.
“I’m not real happy with the outcome today because I thought we did it to ourselves,” Kellogg said. “I thought they played well, but we did some stuff offensively in the second half that was just not really good to watch.”
UMass will now fly back to Amherst and take a 10-day break from playing a game. The Minutemen’s next contest is on Nov. 28, when the team travels to Albany, N.Y., to take on Siena.
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.