Late rally falls short; Bonnies bounce UMass from A-10 tournament

By Stephen Hewitt

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian
Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – With its back against the wall and St. Bonaventure tasting victory, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team didn’t give up.

Unfortunately for UMass (22-11, 9-7 Atlantic 10), it wasn’t enough, as it fell, 84-80, to the Bonnies on Saturday afternoon in the semifinals of the A-10 tournament at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.

The loss puts the Minutemen likely on the outside looking in at making the NCAA tournament, a day after knocking off top-seeded Temple in the quarterfinals, but will have a probable bid at making the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) next week.

“I was proud of the team and the way they continued to fight and claw and try to come away with the win,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg. “We never totally got the game into our flow until the last like six, seven minutes of the game where it was a little more up and down.”

In those last seven minutes, the Minutemen put together a furious rally that almost allowed them to steal a win.

After SBU big man and conference player of the year Andrew Nicholson pushed the Bonnies’ lead to 72-56 with 6:52 remaining, UMass went on a 24-8 run over the remainder of regulation and sliced the deficit to one with 16 seconds left.

Following a made free throw from Charlon Kloof, the Minutemen had one last opportunity to tie or take the lead on their final possession. Terrell Vinson found Raphiael Putney for an open 3-pointer from the left side, but it clanked off the side of the rim. Matthew Wright grabbed the rebound for SBU, got fouled and then sealed the win with two free throws.

“[Putney] was yelling at me like he was down there ready to shoot,” said Vinson. “I saw that he was down there ready to shoot so I passed it to him. The ball was in the air for a long time but I thought it was down when it left his hands.”

Vinson led UMass with 20 points, but only really made his presence felt in the second half. He only saw five minutes of game action in the first half due to foul trouble, but he carried the offense with 17 points in the second half, including the first nine for the Minutemen coming out of the halftime break.

But for the majority of the game, SBU was in complete control. The Bonnies shot 50.9 percent from the field for the game, including 56.3 percent in the first half in which they took a 48-41 advantage into halftime.

“They controlled the tempo and did a very good job,” said Kellogg. “I thought they did a great job of attacking, and we weren’t as sharp as we have been in our press until the second half, and that could be attributed to their press attack and making us pay at times.”

Nicholson saw nine first-half minutes due to foul trouble, but SBU persevered in his absence. The Bonnies didn’t commit any turnovers in the first 20 minutes, and forward Demitrius Conger took over. He was two assists shy of a triple-double with 22 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

“We found a way,” said SBU coach Mark Schmidt, whose team is making its first trip to the A-10 championship since 2000. “We missed foul shots, made it close, but give UMass credit; [its] talented. You don’t win 22 games without having talented players. We found a way to win and move on.”

One of the few bright spots for the Minutemen was Maxie Esho.

With Putney and Vinson on the bench for the majority of the first half in foul trouble, the freshman came in and gave UMass the spark it needed to stay in the game.

He finished with 16 points and eight rebounds, including 14 and seven alone in the first half.

“It was nice to see a freshman come in and carry our team the first half there,” said Kellogg. “It was nice to see him around the rim. He’s probably the best guy we have on our team in the front of the press, and it was good to get him confidence and have him feeling good about playing a lot of minutes in the first half.”

Guards Jesse Morgan and Chaz Williams had far from their best games, contributing 13 and 12 points, respectively, on a combined 6-for-18 shooting. Williams also had five assists to his four turnovers.

The Minutemen are now uncertain of where they are headed next. An NCAA tournament bid seems unlikely, but they have a good chance at making the NIT. The field for that tournament will follow the NCAA tournament Selection Show on Sunday evening.

“Hopefully our season isn’t over and we can continue to play and go from this point and learn from the last game,” said Williams.

Stephen Hewitt can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Hewitt.