Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass struggles late against Mason for fifth consecutive loss

Minutemen 0-4 in A-10 play

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UMass struggles late against Mason for fifth consecutive loss

(Caroline O'Connor/Daily Collegian)

(Caroline O'Connor/Daily Collegian)

(Caroline O'Connor/Daily Collegian)

(Caroline O'Connor/Daily Collegian)

By Amin Touri, Sports Editor

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Four games in, the story stays the same.

For the fourth time in as many games, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team put together a strong defensive effort but couldn’t put it together offensively down the stretch, this time falling to George Mason 68-63 at home.

Rashaan Holloway and Carl Pierre each had 11 points for UMass (7-10, 0-4 Atlantic 10) but the Minutemen shot just 36.4 percent from the field as a team on Wednesday night, and despite a four-point lead late in the second half, they came up just short.

“Obviously disappointed again with the outcome,” said UMass coach Matt McCall. “Again we’re right there, kind of been a theme here in these four league games. You get a four-point lead there late in the game, and that’s where you really got to dig in and learn how to get stops at that point in time, and really execute.”

Mason guard Justin Kier, who’s emerged as one of the conference’s best players in recent weeks, was the standout on Wednesday with a 22-point, nine-rebound performance on 8-of-13 shooting. Kier’s 14-point second half helped the Patriots pull away, all the while guarding Luwane Pipkins on the other end and holding UMass’ star guard to just nine points on 3-of-12 from the floor.

UMass was excellent defensively in the first half, holding Mason to just 23 points on just 34.5 percent shooting from the floor and 11.1 percent from three. But as has been the case all season, when the Minutemen get stops they can’t find the basket, as they went into the half down 23-21 after shooting an abysmal 27.6 percent from the floor, hitting just 1-of-11 from deep.

“I thought our defense in the first half was through the roof,” McCall said. “To hold a team to 23 points shows me the strides we’ve made defensively. We want to hold teams to 65, they got 68 — I was more pleased with that than anything. I thought defensively we got off to a really bad start in the second half where we just couldn’t get stops.”

Both teams found some offensive rhythm in the second half — after missing several layups in the first half, Holloway started to get going, going 4-of-5 from the field and grabbing six offensive boards in the second half alone.

UMass’ best stretch came midway through the second half, when a 13-4 run erased a five-point deficit and gave the home side its biggest lead of the game at 54-50. For a brief few minutes the threes started falling, as a triple from Pierre, two from Luwane Pipkins and another from Kieran Hayward brought the Mullins crowd to its feet and gave the Minutemen momentum for the first time.

The lead was short-lived, as a Javon Greene, along with free throws from Greene and Otis Livingston II from back-to-back UMass turnovers quickly restored the Mason advantage with just under five minutes to play — UMass never led again.

Kier, Livingston and Greene continued to hit shots and make free throws down the stretch to keep the Minutemen from ever really challenging — Pierre missed a three with a minute to go, but Jonathan Laurent grabbed the offensive board and laid it in to bring UMass within three.

But like as they did at Saint Louis and Dayton, the Minutemen struggled offensively late and couldn’t get a stop when it mattered most, and despite a late 3-pointer from Carl Pierre to make things interesting, Mason rode its free-throw shooting to a 68-63 win.

“At the end of the day, during that stretch, Jonathan misses a pull-up jumper right at the elbow that he’s going to make nine times out of 10,” said McCall. “Luwane Pipkins misses a wide-open elbow jumper, he’s going to make that nine times out of 10. I think he also missed a wide-open rhythm three in their zone if I’m not mistaken, he’s going to make those, and he did make those in the second half to get us the lead. Missed a boatload of layups inside in the first half, missed a boatload of wide-open threes in the first half.

“Eventually, the ball’s going to find the net. And, as a coach, you’re always going to look at what you’re running. Are we generating good shots? I thought we got great shots, the ball just didn’t go down. At the end of the day, if you’re going to shoot 42 percent from the free throw line, it’s hard to win. ”

The loss leaves the Minutemen winless through the conference games, though a tough schedule and unsustainably poor shooting suggests they’ve been better than the record.

Mason coach Dave Paulsen, for one, was bullish on UMass’ chance to really compete in the A-10.

“I told my team in the locker room, this is [Mason’s] best conference victory, because UMass is really good, and they’re this far away,” Paulsen said, pinching his thumb and index finger close together. “They played so well at Saint Louis and at Dayton, against really good teams. They really made us work — I thought they defended at a really high level.”

Despite his dejection in the post-game press conference, McCall’s thoughts were similar.

“I do [agree], I do,” McCall said. “Every game’s come down to the last possession. This game to me had a very similar feel with how it ended to the La Salle game, as far as having a four-point lead late in the game, and we just missed wide-open shots. I mean, wide-open. And free throws, with the game on the line. Two shots in the air, one to to tie Saint Louis, one to beat them. Tie game, minute to go at Dayton, Jalen Crutcher hits a huge three.

“I told our team after the game, I’ll be here early in the morning, starting to get prepared for VCU.”

UMass heads to Richmond to take on Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday.

Amin Touri can be reached at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @Amin_Touri.

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