While an early January game is hard to categorize as must-win, that is how it felt for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team when it took on George Mason Wednesday at the Mullins Center.
The Minutemen (7-8, 0-2 Atlantic 10) had opened their conference slate with a loss to St. Bonaventure, one in which they surrendered a season-high 98 points. The Patriots (7-8, 1-1 A-10) also opened conference play with a loss to one of the A-10 favorites, falling 83-64 to Rhode Island.
UMass has struggled on the road, but had been playing its best basketball on its home court, where it was 7-1, including key wins over Providence and Georgia. George Mason had struggled on the road, as it came into the game just 1-3 away from Fairfax.
Both the Minutemen and the Patriots were projected to finish near the bottom of the A-10—UMass projected to finish 12th while George Mason was slotted at 10th in the conference Preseason Poll—making this game one that the Minutemen needed to have, especially with it being played on their home court.
But UMass simply didn’t come out with the energy needed to win. The Minutemen trailed for the majority of the game, but were able to keep it close enough to send the game to overtime late despite holding a lead for just 1:21 in regulation.
In the overtime period, the Patriots leading scorer Otis Livingston took over, scoring nine points as George Mason outscored UMass 14-6 en route to a victory.
The Minutemen had a substantial size advantage over the Patriots, as George Mason’s tallest starter stood at just 6 foot 8. To put that in comparison, UMass boasts two starters, Malik Hines and Rashaan Holloway, who stand over 6-foot-10.
Even with the height favoring the Minutemen, they were unable to win in the rebounding department, as the Patriots grabbed 49 rebounds compared to UMass’ 39. George Mason also grabbed six more offensive boards than UMass.
“Getting outrebounded on your home court by 10—they had 18 offensive rebounds—that’s just too many,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “When you’re shooting from behind the arc like we did, going 5-27 in the game, and then you give up that many offensive rebounds, it’s hard to win.”
McCall feels his team has prepared at practice and come to play at an acceptable level just twice this season, in the wins against Providence and Georgia.
With conference play in full force, the Minutemen will need to come better prepared if they hope to come away with victories.
“I feel like the two games this year where our focus level in practice, our focus level in shootaround, we had everyone connected on the same page was Georgia and Providence,” McCall said. “I feel like everyday, even in practice, some guy is in there and he just doesn’t feel like doing it that day so he’s in a bad mood. Your attitude affects the entire behavior of the team. Everyone has to be committed and connected to doing what we have to do to have success.”
In order for UMass to get on the right page in conference play, it will have to do a much better job of defending the opposition’s guards. Livingston finished with 33 points, which follows on the back of Bonnies guards Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley combining for 60 points against the Minutemen on Saturday.
The road going forward won’t get any easier for UMass. They face Dayton and Saint Joseph’s in the coming weeks, both teams that were projected to finish within the top five in the A-10.
If the Minutemen want to contend within the conference, they will have to show up prepared and ready to play against all of its opponents, no matter their record, as they simply can’t afford losses like the one they suffered Wednesday.
Thomas Johnston can be reached at [email protected] and followed on twitter @TJ__Johnston.