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Monday, August 24, 2015

UMass men’s basketball falls on last-second layup to Saint Louis

Junior forward Maxie Esho takes it in for a reverse layup (Taylor Snow/Daily Collegian)

Junior forward Maxie Esho takes it in for a reverse layup (Taylor Snow/Daily Collegian)

As Chaz Williams dribbled the ball up the court, he had one final heave to end Senior Day on a high note.

It came up just short.

Trailing by two with 3.4 seconds left, Williams sprinted up the court and let a 40-footer go, only to see it rebound off the front of the rim and fall to the ground, resulting in a 64-62 loss for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team to No. 17 Saint Louis.

“Me, as myself, and plus some players in the locker room feel like we missed an opportunity,” senior Sampson Carter said.

Jordair Jett was the hero in Sunday’s game, hitting the game-winning layup with 3.4 seconds left, lifting the Billikens to the victory, stunning the sellout crowd of 9,493 at Mullins Center.

As Jett gathered the ball outside the 3-point arc, he made a move around Williams and as he approached the basket, the lane seemingly opened up, allowing him to finish an uncontested layup that proved to be the difference in the game.

“I thought our guys competed and played well for 38 minutes, 37 and a half minutes,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “We just didn’t make the right plays down the stretch. I thought they executed a little better than we did on both ends of the floor.”

It was nip and tuck throughout much of the second half, with neither team really pulling away. The Minutemen (23-7, 10-6 Atlantic 10) opened up the largest lead of the second half when they went up 56-49 with just under six minutes remaining.


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But Saint Louis (26-5, 13-3 A-10) responded late in the game. The Billikens ended the game on a 15-6 run, snapping a three-game losing streak and winning the conference regular season title outright.

“I was actually a little angry, to a certain extent,” Kellogg said. “It’s one of those games that they kind of took from us, that we had control of it, we had plays that we normally make, but we didn’t do that.”

The loss drops UMass from fourth to sixth in the final standings, with its first game in the A-10 Tournament taking place Thursday night at 9 p.m. against Rhode Island.

The Minutemen spotted Saint Louis an early 9-2 lead, forcing UMass coach Derek Kellogg to call a quick timeout.  UMass answered with a 12-2 run to open up a three-point lead.

Neither team opened up a lead much larger than three or four points from that point forward. The Minutemen took a 35-33 lead into halftime, but as both teams came out to start the second half, poor shooting took center stage.

Through the first seven minutes of the half, the Billikens and UMass combined for 11 points before the Minutemen went on a mini-run to open up their largest lead of the game with five minutes, 50 seconds remaining.

Williams led all scorers with 20 points and nine assists, with his first helper making him the all-time leader in assists in Minutemen history. Jett led the way offensively for SLU, finishing with 17 points, including the final six points for the Billikens.

Following the game, despite a somber mood from Williams and Carter, the determination to bounce back and look ahead to the A-10 Tournament was the main thing on UMass’ mind.

“It’s been a while since UMass had a conference title,” Williams said. “And that’s something we want to go out with. Just making the tournament or being in the Barclays (Center) isn’t good enough for us.”

Patrick Strohecker can be reached at pstrohec@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @P_Strohecker.

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