UMass men’s basketball struggles against 1-3-1 zone defense in Saturday’s loss to Ole Miss

By Anthony Chiusano

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian
Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

SPRINGFIELD – Coming out of the halftime break with a slim two-point lead over Mississippi Saturday, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team looked to build on its lead and clinch a statement win over a Southeastern Conference opponent.

But with a 39-33 UMass lead three minutes into the half, all momentum shifted in favor of the Rebels with a lucky bounce and an impressive finish.

After an Ole Miss pass deflected off Minutemen center Rashaan Holloway’s hands appeared primed to set up the Minutemen’s up-tempo transition offense on the other end of the court, it instead bounced into the hands of Rebels guard Stefan Moody for the uncontested dunk to jumpstart their attack.

The dunk set up a 12-3 run for Ole Miss that UMass would never recover from in a 74-64 loss Saturday afternoon in Springfield for the Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase at the MassMutual Center.

“That was probably the biggest play of the game,” Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg said postgame about the decisive dunk. “I thought we were coming the other way and I’m not sure what happened but next thing you know he’s dunking it… I thought that was a huge play because it seemed like we had a little bit of momentum.”

Saturday’s game featured 10 ties and 11 lead changes in what was a tightly-contested matchup for the majority of play before the Rebels (6-2) pulled away for good behind some late free throws to clinch the victory after UMass shrunk the lead to as little as six in the final two minutes.

The Minutemen (5-2) last led the game at the 11:42 mark of the second half when Holloway converted on a shot in the paint to momentarily subside Ole Miss’ run. UMass struggled finding shots to fall against the Rebels’ 1-3-1 zone defense and finished just 12-of-24 from the free throw line and missed a total of 12 layups.

“You can’t give points away in a high-level game, a higher level game than maybe we’ve played at different junctures,” Kellogg said. “I don’t want to say it deflates you but it brings you down a little bit when you’re at the free throw line and you make 1-of-2, 0-of-2. You miss the frontend of a one-and-one, then maybe you miss a layup and you’re down five when you could be up two or three.”

He added: “We scored 64, I thought if we made layups and free throws, we could’ve been up to around 75-80, which is a good number for the flow of the game tonight.”

Moody finished with a game-high 30 points for Ole Miss after scoring only six points in the first half.

“I thought he was in much better attack mode,” Rebels coach Andy Kennedy said about Moody’s second half performance. “In the second half we went downhill a little bit better, we adjusted some things and did some things a little differently that allowed Moody to get to the rim. He made one, he made two and he – also like the UMass guards – can roll them off quickly.”

Moody’s counterpart, UMass point guard Jabarie Hinds – who came into Saturday with a team-leading 19.7 points per game – was held to one point on a free throw that came with 1:52 left in regulation. He and guard Trey Davis finished a combined 4-for-23 from the field as they faced trouble all day against Ole Miss’ zone defense.

Kellogg said he attributed the team’s struggles against the zone to not enough time to practice and simulate the situation over the past two days. He added that the defense up front made it hard to find open bigs like Holloway down low in the paint.

Donte Clark finished with a team-high 24 points before fouling out in the second half. Eleven of Clark’s total came in the first five minutes of regulation. With Davis and Hinds struggling, UMass forward Seth Berger stepped up to score 14 points in 20 minutes off the bench.

“Trey and Jabarie, they’re our guards and they were getting me open. I was just trying to do my part to finish the plays,” Berger said. “You just have do whatever it takes to win, and at that point in time we needed some buckets.

“Everyone plays a part. Obviously Donte, Jabarie and Trey carry this team in scoring, so it just gives other guys the chance to step up,” Berger added.

UMass looks to bounce back from its second loss in three games as it heads to Florida for a two-game road trip against Central Florida and Florida Gulf Coast. The Minutemen tip off with the Knights Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Anthony Chiusano can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @a_chiusano24.