UMass falls in clunker to George Mason
The Massachusetts men’s basketball team was stuck.
It was stuck behind a seemingly insurmountable second-half lead by George Mason. It was stuck in neutral on defense, following every attempt to cut into the deficit with a defensive miscue or rebounding error. And eventually, UMass was stuck on the wrong side of a 91-80 loss to the worst team in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
“I didn’t think that was one of our better games of the season, to say the least,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said flatly after the game.
Oh, the Minutemen (19-5, 6-4 A-10) had their chances, and the 5,233 fans in attendance at Mullins Center knew it too. The building surged with energy in the second half as UMass whittled away at a Patriots lead, which ballooned to as high as 17 with 16 minutes, 54 seconds left in the game. The Minutemen were following a familiar script in which they’ve had slow starts that give way to frenetic comebacks in a matter of moments.
Which is why, when a Trey Davis jumper brought UMass to 82-75 with 1 minute, 23 seconds remaining, a sense of deja vu arose. Just 28 days ago, the Minutemen erased a five-point deficit in 41 seconds to eek out an 88-87 victory over this very same George Mason (9-15, 2-8 A-10) squad.
But UMass finally dug a hole it could not pull itself out of.
There were mistakes. The Minutemen missed 11 free throws on a 19-of-30 shooting night from the charity stripe. They allowed 15 offensive rebounds and sent the Patriots to the free-throw line 29 times. UMass took 25 3-point attempts and made just seven of them.
And then there was George Mason guard Sherrod Wright. He led all scorers with 22 points, 13 of which he scored in the second half. When Patriots coach Paul Hewitt was asked about the difference in the second half, he immediately pointed to Wright who was sitting next to him.
“He took the game over,” Hewitt said. “They made a run at us and he took the game over. We didn’t call any plays or anything like that, he just made plays.”
UMass attempted to make its patented second-half run, but struggled to cut the deficit below 11 points. When Cady Lalanne cut the lead to 67-56 with 7:44 to go, there was a flash of life. But Wright followed with a jumper of his own. And when Lalanne answered with a layup, Wright was waiting yet again—this time burying a 3-pointer to make the score 72-58.
It was that type of second half, with George Mason answering every haymaker the Minutemen had to offer.
“Every time it seemed like we pressed and got them to take a quick shot, it was in,” Kellogg said. “They made 7-for-13 3’s, they only had 11 turnovers and we were the team spread out and running around. They counterpunched a lot of things we tonight, they really did.”
The Minutemen didn’t help their cause offensively, shooting just 37.5 percent. Chaz Williams played 31 minutes, but sat for stretches in the second half with an apparent injury. He scored just eight points on 3-of-15 shooting.
Davis led UMass with 20 points off the bench. Sampson Carter chipped in 16 points in 32 minutes.
Kellogg was blunt in his assessment of the performance, deeming it a game his team “should’ve won.” The Minutemen have lost three of its last five games and dropped their first game of the year at home.
“The problem is that we didn’t make free throws,” Kellogg said. “So you can pile missing 1-footers, missing 3’s and missing free throws with not coming up with enough 50-50 balls. That’s a recipe we’ve had when we’ve lost games this year.”
Mark Chiarelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.