UMass falls to Fordham at home, 76-72

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian staff

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Brian Tedder/Collegian

The disparity in free throws may have been the difference.

It could have been the disparity in rebounds or the difference in points scored by Ricky Harris (three) compared to his season average of 18.8.

Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Travis Ford wasn’t sure why his team lost to Fordham last night, and he didn’t really want to think about it following the game.

What he does know, however, is that the Minutemen are in serious danger of missing out on the NCAA Tournament for the 10th straight season after dropping a close game to the Rams, 76-72, at the Mullins Center.

“It was sad, it was sad; it was pitiful,” Ford said after the game. “I’m tired trying to figure out this team. There is no [chance at an] at-large [bid into the tournament], there is none. So that’s done. It’s probably pretty safe to say…if we win out, I think we’ll be all right. We’ll see.

“But if you play like this, give me a break,” he added, after pausing briefly.

The victory for Fordham (9-12, 3-6 Atlantic 10) snapped a four-game losing streak, and marked just its third win in the last 10 games. The Minutemen (15-9, 4-6 A-10) have dropped three of their last four in the conference.

Up by two points with 8.7 seconds remaining, Fordham’s Marcus Stout hit both free throws in a one-and-one situation to give the Rams a two-possession lead. UMass point guard Chris Lowe then missed a lay-up and the ball skipped out of bounds as time expired.

The Minutemen had chances at the end. Gary Forbes hit two free throws with 31 seconds remaining, cutting the lead to two. Brenton Butler hit one foul shot for the Rams 14 seconds later to extend the lead to three, but it remained a one-possession game. Dante Milligan was then fouled with 10 seconds left on a lay-up attempt, but missed the front end.

His second free throw banked off the glass and went in, cutting the lead to two but also giving Fordham a chance to ice the game with two made free throws – which Stout did.

The Minutemen were outrebounded by nine, but the key difference was at the foul line – where the Rams had a 14-point edge (22 to eight).

Stout paced Fordham with 22 points, while standout Bryant Dunston added 15 points and 12 rebounds. Sebastian Greene provided a spark off the bench, registering a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Forbes led all players with 23 points and 13 rebounds, but didn’t get enough help from his teammates after halftime. Etienne Brower had a big first half with 14 points, but he took just one shot in the second half due to foul trouble. Only Matt Glass (six points) scored off the bench for UMass, despite five reserves combining for 49 minutes on the floor.

Milligan battled foul trouble once again, but finished with 15 points. Lowe had a season-high 10 assists to go with his eight points.

The first half was relatively uneventful with both teams turning the ball over and shooting poorly. But Brower provided a spark, hitting a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to give the Minutemen a two-point lead.

UMass led for the majority of the first half, but the lead constantly changed sides in the second stanza. The lead altered on nine instances after the intermission, with the Rams taking the lead for good on a 3-point shot by Butler with just 2:35 remaining.

After Butler’s 3-pointer, Dunston stole the ball from Lowe on the ensuing UMass possession, Stout converted a 3-point play to give the Rams a four-point lead.

The Minutemen had held a two-point lead just seconds before Butler’s long-range shot, when Harris hit a 3-pointer for his only basket of the game.

That shot capped off a stretch where Forbes, Glass and Harris hit 4-of-5 3-pointers late in the second half to either capture or extend a UMass lead. Other than Brower – who hit all but one of his five outside shots -the Minutemen had been 0-of-11 from the perimeter before the late surge.

The shooting woes continued for Harris (1-of-5 from deep, 1-of-8 overall), who scored below his season average for the fifth time in his last six games. He is 8-of-44 (18.1 percent) from the perimeter over that time.

UMass drops to a 10th-place tie with Dayton in the A-10 following the loss.

The Minutemen return to action against Saint Louis on Sunday afternoon at the Mullins Center.

Game notes:

Attendance was 4,521, about 2,000 fans fewer than in recent home games. That comes despite the game airing on ESPN2 … UMass’s biggest lead of the game was nine points at 23-14 with 9:16 remaining in the first half. Fordham followed with a 10-2 run and took the lead for the first time shortly after at 28-27 with 4:30 left in the half … Forbes was the only UMass player to have more than four rebounds … The Rams attempted 20 more foul shots than UMass … The Minutemen didn’t commit their first turnover until almost 10 minutes into the game, but still finished with eight in the first half. They had just two after halftime … Brower fouled out with 58 seconds remaining, marking the fourth straight game at least one UMass big-man has done so.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at er[email protected]