Kellogg, Minutemen drop another in final minute

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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P.J. Stanley/Collegian

No matter how well the Massachusetts men’s basketball team plays on a particular night, it always seems to change in the final few minutes of the game.

Sunday’s contest against Saint Joseph‘s was no different.

The Minutemen fell to the Hawks, 68-64, Sunday afternoon at the Mullins Center, losing another late lead and melting down in the final minutes ‘- dropping their seventh game decided by five points or less this season.

‘It’s nice to know we’re finally showing we can play for 38 minutes, but if you can’t play for 40 [minutes], there’s no point in playing,’ UMass forward Tony Gaffney said after the game.

The Minutemen (8-13, 3-5 Atlantic 10), who led for much of the game, held a 53-48 lead with 7 minutes, 26 seconds to play after Anthony Gurley hit one of his four 3-pointers. But with Gaffney out of the game with foul trouble for an extended period, the Hawks quickly came back and went on a 15-3 run ‘- taking the lead for good on a 20-footer by Ahmad Nivins at the 2:26 mark with the shot clock at one second.

Down by nine points with 16 seconds left, the Minutemen gave St. Joe’s (14-8, 7-1 A-10) a brief scare in the final seconds. David Gibbs converted on a 3-point play to cut the lead to six, and after two missed free throws by the Hawks, Ricky Harris hit a 3-pointer with three seconds remaining to climb within three points.

But Darrin Govens hit his first free throw for SJU, extending the lead to four and sealing the win for the Hawks.

‘I think we’ve been involved in as many close games as probably anyone in the country right now,’ UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. ‘I give St. Joe’s credit, they’ve done a good job of figuring out ways to win down the stretch ‘- something that’s eluded us as a team right now.’

The Minutemen have now lost nine games by eight points or less this season. But St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli had words of encouragement for UMass’ first-year coach.

‘I think Derek Kellogg is the right guy here,’ Martelli said. ‘I am amazed at how calm he is for a young, head coach. I know what this means and what it means to the community. I think this league is a jumble, I think Xavier is the best team and I think [teams] two-through-12 [can beat each other] anytime, any day, anywhere. And UMass certainly fits right in that mix.’

Without Gaffney from the 11:21-5:15 mark, the Hawks were able to get to the paint with greater efficiency. Nivins, who both coaches said should be the A-10 Player of the Year after the game, finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds ‘- including the go-ahead basket.

Harris and Gurley each had 18 points as the only two Minutemen to score in double figures. Point guard Chris Lowe finished with seven points and nine assists, while Gaffney just missed a double-double with eight points and 13 rebounds. Along with Nivins, Tasheed Carr (14 points), Govens (11) and Idris Hilliard (nine) led the way offensively for the Hawks.

UMass began the game hot from the floor, hitting its first three 3-pointers to take a 15-9 lead four minutes into the contest. Despite only committing seven turnovers on the afternoon, the Minutemen struggled offensively for the rest of the game, missing a number of close-range shots in the second half.

‘We’ve been doing a ton of individual work in practice and we’ve shot 700 layups over the last three weeks, there’s no excuse for missing layups,’ Kellogg said.

UMass resumes action on Wednesday night for a road tilt against St. Bonaventure (12-10, 3-6 A-10) in Olean, N.Y.

Game notes

During halftime, as part of its 100-years of UMass basketball celebration, UMass honored the legends of the 1990s, including Dana Dingle, Will Herndon, Lari Ketner, Edgar Padilla, Tyrone Weeks and Mike Williams. Marcus Camby, Carmelo Travieso, Lou Roe and John Calipari could not attend the ceremony. Calipari’s daughter, Erin Calipari, who played on the UMass women’s team from 2005-07, was there in his place.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]