Minutemen clinch first-round home game despite loss

By Jay Asser

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian
Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

In its final game of the regular season, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team became the victim of Fordham’s first Atlantic 10 victory in 41 games Saturday afternoon at Rose Hill Gym in the Bronx in a 77-73 defeat.

Not only did the Minutemen (15-14, 7-9 A-10) end up on the wrong end of a feel-good story for a Fordham team (7-21, 1-15 A-10)  that had its brightest moment come at the end of the season, but it also wasted an opportunity to lock up a home game in the first round of the A-10 tournament. Fortunately for UMass, it earned the first-round game nonetheless by way of an edge in a tiebreaker with Dayton, a team which the Minutemen defeated, 55-50, earlier this season.

“The loss hurts,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg after the game. “We had kind of our destiny in our own hands a little bit and Fordham took it away from us and played a better basketball game. I thought our guys let an opportunity slip out of [our] hands.”

While it appeared the Minutemen were in a good position to head into the postseason with a win entering Saturday, the conditions which surrounded the contest weren’t favorable for UMass.

“I feared this game since the schedule came out,” said Kellogg. “You’re playing them on the last day of the season, Senior Day, a team really playing with nothing to lose, and they played that way. I mean, they shot some 3’s and made some plays that I haven’t seen them make all year.”

Despite receiving 30 points from senior Anthony Gurley, the Minutemen couldn’t overcome a 13-point deficit in the second half, falling short of a comeback. After shooting 6-for-10 in the first half and tallying 20 of UMass’ 33 points heading into the intermission, Gurley struggled in the second half, shooting 3-for-13.

UMass guard Javorn Farrell added 11 points, while forward Terrell Vinson scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season.

The Rams, however, received a stalwart performance from senior Brenton Butler on Senior Day, as the guard netted a career-high seven 3-pointers and scored 29 points in his final collegiate game.

Leading-scorer and rebounder Chris Gaston also recorded his 36th career double-double, with 19 points and 14 boards. The sophomore also chipped in four assists and a career-high four steals.

While it has struggled on offense this season, Fordham had fluid ball movement on Saturday, turning the ball over a season-low eight times and dishing out 19 assists on 28 made field goals. The Rams also shot 48.3 percent from the field, including 9-for-23 from beyond the arc, which Kellogg found concerning.

“I thought our ball-screen defense was terrible,” said Kellogg. “We’ve gotten better at that throughout the season and we’ve actually worked on that. So to not have that work out the way it was supposed to, it was disappointing that the guys didn’t execute how we had practiced.”

The loss marked the second time this year when the Minutemen allowed a team to pick up its first win in A-10 play. On Feb. 5, UMass fell to Saint Joseph’s, 67-64, on the road in Philadelphia.

For UMass’ Farrell, having to endure another disappointing loss – especially in the final game of the season – was frustrating.

“Not again,” said Farrell about his thoughts as a loss to the Rams seemed imminent. “[It was] like the St. Joe’s game, where we went into [the home of] one of the worst teams in the conference… and gave away a game that we definitely should have won.”

The Minutemen will put the regular season behind them and look to make a run in the conference tournament when they take the floor Tuesday night at the Mullins Center as the first round meeting against Dayton tips off at 9 p.m.

Jay Asser can be reached at [email protected]