Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A DANCE CUT SHORT: UMass basketball throttled by Tennessee in NCAA Tournament

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Taylor C. Snow/Daily Collegian

Taylor C. Snow/Daily Collegian

RALEIGH, N.C. – The Massachusetts men’s basketball team collectively took on the appearance of a boxer sensing a fight slipping away, staggered against the ropes.

At first, the Minutemen appeared shell-shocked, unable to plug multiple deficiencies which Tennessee exploited. And as the Volunteers continued to expand on their lead – it grew from six points to double-digits to as high as 24 points – UMass continued to seek answers it ultimately did not have.

By the end of their 86-67 loss to Tennessee on Friday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, many of the emotionally-drained Minutemen could do little more than drape towels over their heads. From start to finish, the game was never in hand.

“I guess we got on the ropes for a little bit and a couple people had a couple jitters and everything,” UMass forward Sampson Carter said.

UMass trailed by 19 points at halftime, but opened the second half with a mini-resurgence. The Minutemen sparked a 14-4 run to cut the Volunteers deficit to 46-36. For a team notorious for slow starts and second half charges, it felt as if UMass had one last trick up its sleeve.

Tennessee shut that door quickly.

The Volunteers surged back, using a Josh Richardson tomahawked chase down block on a Derrick Gordon layup to gain energy and push the lead to 17 points. As quickly as the Minutemen had gained momentum, it had slipped away.

“We definitely felt like it was going to be a turning point. I can’t even tell you what went wrong,” UMass forward Sampson Carter said of the second half comeback attempt.

Kellogg cited the Richardson block as a major turning point in the game.

“I thought our guys fought in the second half, cut (the lead) to 10 or 12,” Kellogg said. “A few bounce plays didn’t go our way. We couldn’t get over the hump.”

UMass opened the game with back-to-back missed layups. By the end of the first half, point guard Chaz Williams said the team was told they had missed nine. The Minutemen found opportunities to score but couldn’t convert as the game quickly slipped away, shooting just 30 percent in the first half.

“I felt like we were getting whatever we wanted on the floor, honestly,” Williams said. “We just weren’t finishing baskets. … I feel like it was more so us, you know. I turned the ball over early. I wasn’t really making layups. There was nothing they really did.”

Conversely, the Volunteers showed no signs of slowing down. They exploited UMass’ lack of size in the paint and limited any kind of outside offense. The Minutemen didn’t score a single first half point outside of the painted area or free-throw line.

Tennessee received strong scoring efforts from forward Jarnell Stokes and guard Jordan McRae. Stokes scored 26 points and added 14 rebounds while McRae chipped in 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting. Fourteen of McRae’s 21 points came in the first half, setting the tempo for the rest of the game.

Williams, who finished with 12 points, said that despite the team’s strong preparation, UMass did indeed feel jitters throughout its rocky start.

“I think it was mostly jitters than anything,” Williams said.

“I think that kind of took away from what we wanted to do, because we had a couple of great practices these past couple of days. It felt like we were going to come out great. Once you get under the lights and the crowd starts roaring, you start second guessing,” he added.

Maxie Esho and Gordon were the only other two Minutemen to score in double digits, scoring 12 and 10 points, respectively.

Sixteen years passed in between NCAA Tournament appearances for UMass. In the immediate aftermath of the loss, Carter noted it will take a few days for things to sink in, but there’s reason to be both proud of the Minutemen’s accomplishments and upset at the way things ended. After starting 16-1, UMass stumbled to an 8-8 finish to end the season.

“You kind of get unappreciative during the season because you want more and want more,” Carter said. “You get addicted to winning. But it’s been a bittersweet year and we’re kind of bitter right now. But when you think about the past and the future, you appreciate everything.”

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli. 

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