Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass bounced from Atlantic 10 tournament in loss to La Salle

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

NEW YORK — The Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s bench rose as one, exploding off their seats as guard Donte Clark drilled a 3-pointer to pull UMass within one point of La Salle with just over two minutes remaining.

The energy and intensity which evaporated from that same bench as La Salle mounted a nine-point lead in the second half returned. Derrick Gordon thumped his chest, assistant coach Matt Vogel squatted on the ground. Derek Kellogg was practically already on the court barking out instruction.

If the bench had its way, everyone would’ve been on the floor. They were in this together, primed to take control of a game which was slipping away.

Except Explorers guard Khalid Lewis had other plans.

With the shot clock winding down, Lewis dribbled to the right corner with his back to the basket. In an instant, he turned, quickly fired a shot and watched as it rattled home.

The bench sagged.

Lewis had single-handedly ended the Minutemen’s run, halted their momentum and, ultimately, ended their season, as UMass would go on to lose to La Salle 76-69 Thursday in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament at the Barclays Center.

“I thought we were going to win honestly,” Kellogg said. “That play was the kind of gut-wrenching punch in the face, stomach, whatever you want to call it … That was a killer.”

“When I saw that go in I was just like, ‘Wow,’” guard Trey Davis said. “I couldn’t believe he made that shot.”

Clark’s 3-pointer had made it 64-63, but Lewis’ answer brought the lead back to four. UMass wouldn’t get any closer, ending its brief stay at the conference tournament. La Salle will move on to face Davidson tomorrow in the second round.

For the Minutemen, it was the culmination of a three-week skid which saw them lose six of their last seven games. At one point in mid-February, UMass was tied for first place in the Atlantic 10 conference.

Now, they head home.

“It’s very disappointing,” Davis said. “It’s crazy how quick it can go wrong. One game, two games, three games, then it’s all gone.

“You can’t just take things for granted because it can be gone quick.”

The Minutemen didn’t play like a team that was ready for its season to end, at least not initially. They led by as many as nine points in the first half before the Explorers, led by guard Jordan Price, went on an 11-3 run near the end of the frame and took a 31-30 lead into halftime.

UMass answered with an 8-0 run to start the second half to take a 38-33 lead and maintained a lead until a La Salle bucket made it 46-45 lead with nearly 11 minutes left.

The Explorers capitalized, extending that lead to 58-49 with 6:45 remaining. But sparked by multiple hustle plays, UMass crept back into the game.

Senior center Cady Lalanne dove for and saved a loose ball headed out of bounds on the defensive end. On the ensuing offensive possession, Clark put back an offensive rebound to cut the La Salle lead 58-54.

By games end, Lalanne and Clark combined for 12 offensive rebounds. Clark led UMass with 23 points, while Lalanne added 17 points and 16 rebounds.

“I thought we won hustle points or the toughness points for the most part,” Kellogg said. “We out-rebounded them, really killed them on the boards for a while. Came up with some loose balls.”

Yet UMass couldn’t turn that energy into a strong enough comeback. Each time the Minutemen scored, La Salle answered, whether via the hot hand of Price or at the free throw line, where the Explorers were 21-of-25 in the second half.

Price finished with a game-high 28 points, 14 of which came from the line. Cleon Roberts added 16 points, while Steve Zack finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds.

”A few times I thought we had an opportunity to pull away and didn’t make some plays,” Kellogg said.

Kellogg cited UMass’ 3-point shooting (22 percent) as the Achilles heel, something that’s plagued the team all season. Ultimately, the Minutemen couldn’t recover from a mid-game lull, something that’s also hampered them this season.

This time, they don’t have a chance to make up for it.

“That’s a tough way for us to go out with a team that I thought had a chance to advance here and could make some noise,” Kellogg said.

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

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