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UMass men’s basketball drops tightly-contested conference matchup against George Mason Wednesday night

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(Caroline O’Connor/Daily Collegian)

Coming out of non-conference play with a 10-3 record, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team had to be happy with the momentum it had going into Atlantic 10 conference play

However, non-conference success doesn’t always translate over and UMass has found that out the hard way as it lost to George Mason 86-81 Wednesday night at EagleBank Arena. The Minutemen have now lost both conference matchups after falling to St. Bonaventure by 12 last Friday at home.

UMass (10-5, 0-2 A-10) looked like it might bounce back from their loss to the Bonnies in a strong way in the first half, going up as much as 13 points midway through the first half after a 3-pointer by junior guard Donte Clark.

The Patriots would not back down quietly though, as they would outscore UMass 23-9 for the remainder of the opening half.

A big key to that run was the play of Marquise Moore. The guard came into the game averaging 17.5 points, which was good for first on GMU and ninth-best in the A-10. He also led the conference in rebounds per game with 10.7 coming into play.  To that point in the game, Moore had just six points, but once the Patriots got down in that hole halfway through the first half, the senior took over upping his scoring output to 15 by the end of the half.

Moore finished the day with a game-high 24 points and a team-high nine rebounds. He wasn’t the only one who came through offensively for GMU. Moore and three other players combined to score 76 of the Patriots 86 points. Forward Jalen Jenkins and guard Otis Livingston II both scored 18, while guard Jaire Grayer chipped in 16 for GMU.

The Minutemen kept the game close throughout the second half, even taking the lead on three separate occasions in the last 20 minutes and having the Patriots lead down to two with 27 seconds remaining, but UMass could not pull off the late-game heroics in the end.

Despite coming out on the losing end, the Minutemen got a quality performance from three of their starters and had some strong bench play. Center Rashaan Holloway posted a double-double for UMass, leading the team with 17 points and 10 rebounds. The outing was the fifth in a row that Holloway has gone over 10 points and the first time he had at least 10 rebounds. Guard Luwane Pipkins added 16 points for the Minutemen, along with five rebounds, while Clark has 15 points and seven rebounds.

UMass’ bench play was a highlight Thursday night as they outscored GMU 23-3 off the bench. Guard Zach Lewis was the biggest contributor off the pine, scoring 12 points, while Ty Flowers and C.J. Anderson scored six and five points respectively.

Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg opted for a different starting lineup Thursday than he has employed all season, swapping forward Seth Berger for freshman Brison Gresham. In 16 minutes of play, Gresham was solid with five rebounds and two blocks and two assists, while adding two points on his only attempt early in the first half.

With UMass still looking for its first win in A-10 play, the road to picking up its first conference win will not be getting any easier as it prepares to take on perennial A-10 contender Virginia Commonwealth (12-3, 2-0 A-10) Saturday at the Siegel Center.

VCU has won six in a row as tip off is set for 1 p.m. in Richmond, Virginia.

Adam Aucoin can be reached at aaucoin@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @aaucoin34.

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