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Donte Clark, late run lift UMass men’s basketball over Rider in Gotham Classic finale

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(Caroline O’Connor/Daily Collegian)

On a night where the Massachusetts men’s basketball team struggled to find consistency on the offense end, Donte Clark was once again forced to take matters into his own hands against Rider.

UMass (9-3) lacked discipline and consistency down the stretch for most of Thursday night’s contest, but a late Minutemen run combined with Clark’s performance was enough to put them over the hump against the streaking Broncos (8-4).

Clark finished with 27 points, eight rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals on the same night he scored his 1,000th career point. The Minutemen closed the game on a 16-3 run with Rider’s last field goal coming with six minutes, three seconds left on the clock.

It was another “growing pains” experience for the 2,547 in attendance at Mullins Center, but it was enough for UMass to secure a 78-67 win in the de facto championship game of the Gotham Classic.

“Somebody had to try to put the ball in the hole,” Clark said. “And I definitely think I did because we were losing.”

To Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg, it wasn’t only Clark’s scoring that put them in a position to win.

“He’s just matured so much basketball wise,” Kellogg said. “In years past, I think guys look for their offense and now he’s letting it come to him. He’s probably the one who is now talking to the guys about locking up on defense and shot selection, which is a beautiful thing to see. I think he’s really helping our team mature as he’s maturing.”

“When he came here I knew he could put the ball in the basket,” Kellogg added. “That’s something that now he’s becoming a more refined player attacking the rim, rebounding and playing defense. Now, honestly, I just have to get some of these others guys to play the right way and continue to get better.”

Clark’s 1,000th point came on an emphatic fast-break dunk set up on a behind-the-back bounce pass from Luwane Pipkins to tie the game at 49 with 14:28 remaining. He is now the 50th player in UMass’ history to reach the 1K scoring mark.

“it’s definitely an accomplishment because I didn’t even get 1,000 points in high school,” Clark said. “So me getting it in college is definitely great.”

Points number 1,002 and 1,003 for Clark jump-started UMass’ late surge, answering a 9-0 Rider run after the Minutemen had taken a four-point lead.

Zach Lewis’ corner 3-pointer with 3:09 remaining put the Broncos away for good. Rider entered Thursday riding a five-game winning streak, however missed its final 10 shot attempts after Kahlil Thomas’ jumper at the 6:03 mark in the second half.

The Broncos led for 23:17 if the game, compared to UMass leading for just 10:25.

“I like Rider’s team,” Kellogg said. “I watched them on tape and I really think they have a good club. [Rider coach Kevin Baggett] does a really nice job; he started four seniors which I thought allowed them to not really fall to our full-court pressure. I knew it was going to be a hard-fought game.”

Outside of Clark’s 27, Rashaan Holloway was the only other Minuteman in double figures as he finished with 16 points and five rebounds on 6-for-7 shooting.

Holloway, however, played most of the first half in foul trouble after he picked up two quick ones in the first 2:13.

“I got nervous because they were touch fouls. Some of them I didn’t even think were fouls,” Holloway said. “I just knew that when I came out I wasn’t going to be out long because I had good energy and I knew the coaches knew that they didn’t lose me.”

“In years past I would probably not play many guys with two [fouls],” Kellogg said. “We needed him. I didn’t want the game to get away from us because I was trying to keep a guy from picking up his third.”

Guard Jordan Stevie paced the balanced Bronco scoring attack with 15 points while also adding eight assistants and five rebounds. Norville Carey (12 points) and Xavier Lundy (10) each contributed with double-digits. Khalil Thomas added nine points and nine rebounds and controlled the paint with UMass’ bigs in foul trouble.

After the holiday break, the Minutemen travel to Georgia State Dec. 28 in their last non-conference game before Atlantic 10 play starts Dec. 30 against St. Bonaventure.

“Here we go,” Kellogg said. “We have a tough, tough game at Georgia State and then we follow it up with probably the toughest start to the conference play in my tenure here. It’s going to be a fun battle for the next couple weeks.”

Andrew Cyr can be reached at arcyr@umass.edu, and followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.

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