Big 2nd half run nearly gets UMass victory in A10 tourney

By Jackson Alexander

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian
Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Down 16 points with seven minutes, 29 seconds remaining, it appeared that not only would the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s season end, it would end in blow out fashion.

Facing a 70-54 deficit, the Minutemen came charging back over the remainder of the game, and narrowly missed out on an opportunity to play for the Atlantic 10 championship game, as they fell, 84-80, to St. Bonaventure in the semifinals of the A-10 Tournament on Saturday.

“I was happy with the way they continued to fight and claw and come away with a loss against a St. Bonaventure team that I thought played well,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg.

The run began when Sean Carter made back-to-back baskets, the first a tip-in off a Jesse Morgan missed shot, and the second, a dunk on a feed from Morgan. Carter’s shots were sandwiched between two free throws by Bonnies star Andrew Nicholson (19 points).

Sophomore Raphiael Putney then made his only 3-pointer of the game, and Terrell Vinson (20 points) followed with a layup on the next possession. UMass now had hope with 4:48 remaining. The lead had been cut to less than 10 for the first time since the 12:35 mark of the second half.

However, the Minutemen fell a step back over the next minute as SBU pushed the lead back to 10. At this point, UMass made its run.

“When we make shots, it gives our guys a little more energy to get into the press and I thought we finally made a few 3-pointers and offensive possessions that looked good … then we were able to get into our press,” said Kellogg.

It started with a pair of free throws by Vinson. And then on the next possession, Chaz Williams nailed a 3-point shot, making the score 77-71 with 2:21 left. The Minutemen stopped the Bonnies on the other end, and Morgan was fouled and made both free throws.

“This game meant a lot to us,” said sophomore guard Chaz Williams. “So when it got down to six minutes, we had our backs against the wall and we were ready to play.”

With under two minutes remaining, UMass implemented full-court pressure, which resulted in a steal and a layup for Putney. Feeling the game slipping out of their hands, SBU coach Mark Schmidt called a timeout to settle his team.

“We tried to stay poised,” said SBU forward Demetrius Conger. “Basketball is a game of runs, and we just tried to maintain and stay focused through the whole thing.”

Schmidt’s plan temporarily worked as the Minutemen had an empty possession and Conger (22 points) went 3-for-4 from the free throw line and made the score 80-75 with 1:06 left.

Putney scored on a layup at the other end, and then Kloof and Carter each made one free throw to keep St. Bonaventure’s lead at three.

With under 30 seconds left, UMass opted not to foul immediately and instead elected to go for the steal. The Bonnies advanced the ball into the frontcourt, but Javorn Farrell tipped a Kloof pass and manufactured a steal. Farrell found Williams streaking towards the basket, where he was fouled. Williams narrowly missed an opportunity for a 3-point play as his shot rolled off the front rim.

Nevertheless, he made both free throws, and the Bonnies made just one on the other end. The Minutemen now controlled the ball with 14 seconds remaining, down 82-80. Williams advanced the ball into the front court, worked on a pick-and-roll with Carter, stopped his dribble and found Vinson at the top of the 3-point circle.

Vinson shot faked, and when a SBU defender converged on him, he whipped a pass to Putney.

“They did a good job of rotating and [Vinson] hit [Putney], and I yelled at him to shoot it,” said Kellogg.

The lengthy sophomore released his potential game-winning 3-point attempt with five seconds remaining in the game. The ball floated through the air, and looked on target, according to Vinson.

“The ball was in the air for a long time, but I thought it was down when it left his hands,” said Vinson.

However, it clanked off the back rim, and flew high into the air. When it came down, Matthew Wright was there to grab the rebound and was fouled by Farrell with under two seconds left.

“We were a small bounce [away] from winning the game,” said Kellogg.

Wright made both free throws, and secured the Bonnies’ first trip to the A-10 title game since 2000.

When all was said and done, the Minutemen had outscored the Bonnies 26-14 over the final seven minutes and 29 seconds. In addition SBU missed six foul shots and committed two turnovers in the final 2:30 seconds of play.

“We didn’t do a great job finishing the game. Give them credit,” said Schmidt.

Jackson Alexander can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Alexander.