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December 30, 2016

Minutemen frustrated, disappointed at missed opportunities

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Saturday’s matchup between the Massachusetts men’s basketball team and Saint Louis offered a dizzying array of emotions.

Of course, there’s the disappointment. There was anger too. But the ultimate feeling following Saint Louis’ 64-62 victory was that the Minutemen had their chances and simply missed.

The potential narrative – UMass guard Chaz Williams brilliantly guiding his team past a heralded Billikens opponent in front of a sold out Mullins Center crowd on Senior Day – played out perfectly for roughly 38 minutes. The Minutemen thwarted off Saint Louis throughout most of the second half and came tantalizingly close to knocking off the conference’s leader.

But the shots stopped falling and the lead wilted away. Saint Louis guard Jordair Jett did not, eluding UMass guard Derrick Gordon’s defense in with 3.4 seconds remaining to play the ultimate role of spoiler with his game-winning layup.

“I was actually a little angry to a certain extent,” Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg said.

“It was one of those games I felt like (Saint Louis) took from us. We had control of it, we had the plays we normally make, and we didn’t do that. So I was a little frustrated and deflated to a certain extent.”

Most of UMass’ season has centered around finally getting over the program’s final challenge. The Minutemen have won close games on the road, pulled out comebacks in front of their own crowd and are finally posed to make the NCAA Tournament.

Which is why – playing in a tremendous basketball atmosphere on a day dedicated to three pillars of Kellogg’s program in Williams, Sampson Carter and Raphiael Putney – it felt like UMass would continue the trend.

But Carter missed an open 3-pointer from the corner with just a minute, 33 seconds remaining. Williams fouled Jett on the ensuing possession and Jett tied the game at 60-60 with two free throws. Williams and Jett subsequently traded layups, but Minutemen guard Trey Davis missed a floater in the lane with 44 seconds remaining and a chance to break a 62-62 tie. Gordon grabbed the offensive rebound and found Cady Lalanne, who was blocked on his layup attempt.

That would be UMass’ final opportunity to take the lead. Jett handled the rest.

“We just didn’t make the right plays down the stretch,” Kellogg said. “I thought (Saint Louis) executed a little bit better than us on both ends of the floor.”

What compounded the issue was that the Minutemen appeared to be in control. They pushed the lead to as much as seven points with 5:48 remaining and succeeded at playing at the Billikens slower, more plodding pace.

But UMass couldn’t hang on completely.

“Everybody in the locker room is sad,” Williams said. “Obviously, they wanted the seniors to go out on a good note.”

Of course, there’s a silver lining in the loss. While it’s the final game at the Mullins Center this season, there’s still postseason basketball left. There’s still time to fine-tune the mistakes, to learn and make-well on the heartbreak.

There’s also the opportunity UMass could face Saint Louis again. There’s opportunity for the Minutemen to deliver more to the program than any team has in the past 15 years.

“We’re just trying to win,” Williams said. “It’s been a while since UMass had a conference title and that’s something we want to go out with. Just making the (NCAA) tournament or just being in the Barclays (Center) isn’t good enough for us. We’re really trying to make something out of it and do something with it.”

It’s a group of players with enough experience to deal with adversity. The Minutemen can rebound, and rebound quickly. But on Sunday, they came up painstakingly short.

“Fortunately for us, we’ve been in a lot of tight games and we have a senior-laden group of guys with some resiliency,” Kellogg said.

“That’s why I’m somewhat frustrated because we’ve won our fair share of those and today was a game, with the plays that we had, normally we win those games.”

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at mchiarel@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.

 

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