NEW YORK – Massachusetts men’s basketball team coach Derek Kellogg had one last word for his team out of the locker room last night.
“How you feel now, don’t let it happen again.”
Last night, the Minutemen’s season came to an end as it was ousted by Stanford, 74-64, in the semifinal of the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden.
The Minutemen reached the semifinal game with the Cardinal (25-11) after three straight road wins against Mississippi State, Seton Hall and Drexel.
The difference maker in the game was Stanford’s Anthony Brown, who torched the Minutemen (25-12) for 18 points and hit a number of big shots down the stretch.
“I thought Aaron was terrific, I thought in the second half he made a lot of good plays for us,” said Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins. “He’s our ball handler, he comes in [and] gives us a big spark.”
At the seven minutes, 33 seconds mark in the second half, with all the momentum shifting in UMass’ direction, Brown buried a 3-point shot to regain a 52-50 Stanford lead.
He was not finished, however, as he scored seven of his team’s next 11 points. His final shot was a 3-point dagger at the 2:51 mark that gave his team an eight-point lead, a lead the Cardinal would never relinquish.
“I thought he hit five quick points that really separated the game there,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg of Brown.
Brown also did a nice job isolating UMass point guard Chaz Williams who was hampered with foul trouble throughout.
“He actually got Chaz caught on him a couple of times and with his foul trouble, I thought they did a good job of recognizing that and taking advantage of that,” said Kellogg.
Other than Brown’s significant moment, Williams’ third foul with 3:31 left in the first half marked a change in the game for the Minutemen. At the time of the foul, UMass had begun to make a dent in the Stanford lead, but Williams – who has shown offensive success for UMass this season – was sent to the bench, and the Minutemen ended the half in a 36-33 hole.
More importantly though, Williams had to change his style in the second half, particularly on the defensive end. He could no longer use his reckless, scrappy, free-for-all style of play.
“I couldn’t be as aggressive as I wanted to be on the defensive end and I think that took away from my team … it allowed [Brown] to get a lot of open shots,” said Williams.
Williams, who had been on a tear of late averaging 22.7 points in his previous three games, led the team with 18 points, but needed 19 shots to reach that figure.
“Just all of us wasn’t here today, including myself,” said Williams. “I came out and made some unforced errors early that I don’t usually make.”
Williams was not the only Minuteman in foul trouble. Sophomore backcourt-mate Jesse Morgan picked up his second foul 10:04 into the first half. He fouled out in 19 minutes of play and never found rhythm in the game as he had just two points – UMass’ first bucket of the game – and shot 1-for-5 from the field.
The beginning of the second half was defined by poor play from both teams. They combined to score six points in the first five minutes, as both teams failed to put the ball in the hoop.
Both teams got hot with Stanford holding a 40-35 lead, with less than 15 minutes less in the game. UMass scored five straight points and knotted the score at 40.
But the Cardinal pushed the lead back to four on back-to-back baskets by Aaron Bright (13 points) and Josh Owens (15 points, 12 rebounds).
UMass grabbed brief control of the tightly contested game with a 3-point shot by Freddie Riley (10 points) to make the score 50-49 with 8:05 left.
However, Stanford, led by Brown, countered with a run of its own to regain a five point lead with four minutes and two seconds left.
Just over a minute later, Brown delivered the knockout blow on a possession that was extended thanks to an offensive rebound by Owens. After the board, Chasson Randle (12 points) reset the offense and found a wide open Brown in the corner, who silenced the predominantly UMass crowd with a 3-pointer.
“I think that was something that bothered us a little bit at the early part of the season, responding to changes in momentum,” said Owens. “I was really proud of the way the guys fought back.”
Stanford held the advantage in just about every statistic. It finished with higher percentages in field goal shooting, 3-point shooting and free throw shooting, outrebounded the Minutemen 45-35, and committed one less turnover then UMass.
While the season ended on a negative note for the Minutemen, there’s no doubt that progress has been made to the program that went just 39-53 in the three previous years.
“We just battled every year together, and I’m happy to see the program going in the right direction now as I’m on my way out,” said senior center Sean Carter.
Jackson Alexander can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Alexander.