UMass goes cold as it falls to George Washington in the A-10 quarterfinals

By Patrick Strohecker

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

NEW YORK- As Trey Davis’ wide-open 3-point attempt with just under 11 minutes remaining clanked off the front of the rim, all Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg could do was put his hands over his face.

His team overcame poor shooting to pull out a 65-61 win over Rhode Island on Thursday night, but on Friday night, the answers just weren’t there.

The Minutemen shot 43 percent from the floor and squandered numerous open looks en route to a 85-77 loss to George Washington in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

“We didn’t take advantage of a lot of the opportunities that we actually had,” Kellogg said. “We didn’t make the shots or the plays when we had gotten the game sped up to a certain extent.”

UMass now waits until Sunday night to find out its NCAA Tournament fate

Despite trailing for much of the first half, UMass looked to have all the momentum going into the break until a mental breakdown saw the Colonials’ lead balloon from four points to nine in the span of 11 seconds.

Nick Griffin hit a wide-open 3-pointer and Isaiah Armwood turned a Maurice Creek steal into a layup, to give GW a 40-31 lead at halftime.

“It hurts a lot more when you’re trying to make stops and then you’re stopping the guys and then here they come with a nice run,” senior Chaz Williams said. “It always hurts to know that you’re doing good, but then they over power it.”

The Minutemen never seemed to fully get over those final seconds of the first half. UMass made just three of its first 13 shots to start the second half, allowing GW to push its lead to a game-high 18 points with just over four minutes remaining.

At that point, it was too little too late for UMass. The Minutemen used a 15-8 run to pull to within eight points with one minute, 25 seconds left. The late push was sparked by freshmen Clyde Santee and Demetrius Dyson, who scored 11 points down the stretch.

“We had to have Clyde and Demetrius come in to make 3’s,” Kellogg said.

The game appeared to be back-and-forth early with the two teams tied 7-7 at the first media timeout, but then an unlikely hero in Nemanja Mikic came off the bench and sparked GW.

Mikic knocked down three consecutive 3-pointers for the Colonials, sparking an 11-2 GW run to give it an 18-9 lead that it would never relinquish.

“We’ve known that he’s been a good shooter for a long time,” Kellogg said. “But that nine points in the first half, actually, kind of propelled them and gave them some confidence. … He’s a good player and he gives them another weapon.”

Mikic (14 points) was one of six Colonials to finish in double-figures.

UMass was once again led by Maxie Esho off the bench. Esho, the hero from Thursday night’s win over Rhode Island, led all scorers with 22 points.

“He’s really our sixth starter,” Kellogg said of Esho. “I’m not one that likes to change lineups just to say I’m changing lineups, but I think he’s deserving to start or play 29 minutes a game.”

UMass has had trouble all season long going up against zone defenses, but GW’s unconventional 1-3-1 zone caused an extra set of problems for the Minutemen. Any time they tried to penetrate the zone, Colonial players swarmed to the dribbler, which caused 17 UMass turnovers in the game.

The Minutemen must put arguably their worst performance of the season behind them and prepare for what looks to be a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 16 years.

“I think (the team) is going to take on my demeanor over the next four or five days,” Kellogg said. “Which is going to be, we’re going to be loose, but we’re going to be sharp and we’re going to play the way we need to play.”

Patrick Strohecker can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @P_Strohecker.