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UMass men’s basketball falls to Richmond in final home game of 2016-17

(Jessica Picard/Collegian)

For a while, it looked as if the Massachusetts men’s basketball team had finally turned the corner and were playing a better brand of basketball than it has shown all throughout conference play.

Going with the same starting five the Minutemen (14-16, 4-13 Atlantic 10) rolled out in their last win against La Salle, UMass picked up right where it left off and extended its lead to double digits in the first half thanks to constant ball movement and a new-look 3-2 zone defense that kept Richmond’s shooters at bay.

But just as quickly as the Minutemen showed signs of improvement, their old ways came back to haunt them, falling to the Spiders 75-64 at Mullins Center Wednesday on Senior Night.

“I’ll break it down quick and easy,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said to open his press conference following the game. “We got out to a good lead and I didn’t think we closed out the half. In the second half, they came out and we just didn’t score. I mean, we really didn’t execute offensively against their switching man-to-man defense and then their 3’s were coming from everywhere.”

After missing open looks throughout the first half, Richmond’s shooters finally caught fire by making its first six 3-pointers, while converting 7-of-9 in the second half.

Spiders guard ShawnDre’ Jones spearheaded their comeback, scoring eight points during Richmond’s 22-2 run that stretched from the 6:01-mark of the first half until 16:16 remaining in the second half. He finished with a game-high 26 points, with 20 coming in the second half.

Richmond (18-11, 12-5 A-10) star big man T.J. Cline was held to just nine points—tied for his worst scoring performance of the season—however seven of those came in the final 5:03 in the first half when he made two 3-pointers, and was fouled on the second to cut the Minutemen’s lead to 32-31 heading into halftime.

Cline finished with seven assists, good for second most in the game.

“[Cline] didn’t score like he usually does but his passing in that zone was just like, I mean it was hitting his hands and that ball was in the right spot at the right guy before we can ever rotate out of it especially in the second half,” Kellogg said. “I thought he played an MVP-type game tonight without even dominating the stat sheet.”

UMass’ best stretch came following the under-16 media timeout in the first half when it went on a 13-2 run where the Minutemen held the Spiders to just one field goal from 15:02 until 9:38.

The Minutemen would extend their lead to as much as 11 on a Rashaan Holloway tip-in layup with 6:01 remaining in the half before Richmond went on its monstrous run.

Kellogg thought Richmond’s defensive adjustments were the biggest difference maker down the stretch.

“I think [the man-to-man, switching defense] froze us a little bit,” Kellogg said. “You work on those things in practice. We didn’t have all the rotations down. I thought it froze us some and you really have to get the ball and jam it inside when they’re in that. We didn’t take advantage of our size and our physicality down low until the end.”

The Minutemen scored just 21 points for the first 16-plus minutes in the second half before adding 11 in the final 3:34.

Luwane Pipkins led all UMass players with 19 points, making the Minutemen’s only three 3-pointers of the evening. Outside of Pipkins, they shot 0-for-14.

Brison Gresham had one of his better games of the season, finishing with a career-best 12 points while also adding eight rebounds and a pair of blocks. Holloway added 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting.

Outside of those three, the Minutemen were 8-for-29 from the field.

UMass heads to St. Bonaventure this weekend for its regular-season finale before heading to Pittsburgh next week for the A-10 tournament.

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

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