UMass men’s basketball hangs tough, falls to No. 7 Virginia at Mohegan

Minutemen go cold from three

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UMass men’s basketball hangs tough, falls to No. 7 Virginia at Mohegan

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

By Amin Touri, Editor in Chief

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UNCASVILLE, CT. – Sometimes, the shots just don’t fall.

With an opportunity to make a statement against No. 7 Virginia on Saturday, the Massachusetts men’s basketball just couldn’t buy a bucket from outside against the defending national champions, as a five-point game at halftime got away from the Minutemen (5-1) in the second half en route to a 58-46 loss at Mohegan Sun Arena.

An 11-0 run late in the first half — highlighted by two monstrous minutes from freshman Tre Mitchell — brought UMass back into the game before halftime, but the Minutemen shot just 5-of-26 from three and the cold shooting killed them.

“I told our team after the game, we’re not in it for moral victories, at all,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “We went toe-to-toe with the No. 7 team in the country for the better part of the game.”

Against Virginia’s famed Pack Line defense, UMass needed its sharpshooters — namely, TJ Weeks and Carl Pierre — to hit their open shots, as they did against Rider on Wednesday in combining to shoot 10-of-15 from deep. On Saturday, they didn’t, as Pierre and Weeks went a combined 5-of-17 from outside, three of which went down on consecutive attempts once the game was already out of hand.

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

“If you kick in three or four more of those, we’re sitting here in a one possession, two possession game down the wire,” McCall said. “I’m not worried about it all, those shots are going to go in for us, but you got to give Virginia a lot of credit on the adjustment they made in the second half to double team Tre, but again, it’s going to be hard to do as we go forward just because of the snipers TJ and Carl are, and we’re not going to have too many nights where we go 5-for-26 from the 3-point line.”

Midway through the first half, it looked like things were getting away from UMass after a respectable start. The Minutemen were forcing shots and couldn’t get anything to go offensively while Jay Huff and Braxton Key started to go to work for Virginia (5-0), as the Cavaliers pieced together a 10-0 run to take a 29-13 lead with 3:34 to go in the first half. Against one of the nation’s best defensive units, a 16-point deficit felt close to insurmountable.

Enter, Tre Mitchell.

After a pair of Samba Diallo free throws and a Carl Pierre 3-pointer brought the lead to 11, Mitchell went to work. With Mamadi Diakite sitting with two fouls, Mitchell took advantage of Huff inside time and time again, as the 7-foot-1 Huff just couldn’t stay with him.

Mitchell got Huff on an iso twice and spun past him twice, laying home back-to-back buckets to cut the lead to seven. Huff had to step outside to defend Mitchell in the dying seconds and the freshman went behind-the-back to get to the paint, worked his way inside and overpowered Huff to drop in a jump hook with four seconds to go. UMass finished the half on an 11-0 run, capped off by six straight points from Mitchell to cut the lead to 29-24, as the highly-touted big man dragged his team kicking and screaming back into the game.

Pierre hit a little 12-foot turnaround early in the second half to pull UMass within three, but that was as close as the Minutemen would get. Virginia began to trap in the post and send immediate double-teams at Mitchell and when he found an open shooter, the shots wouldn’t go. The Minutemen missed their first 10 threes of the second half, including open looks for Pierre and Weeks, and the Cavaliers began to pull away.

“You’ve got to give Virginia a lot of credit, I thought that Tre, in the first half, was cooking there,” McCall said. “Inside, outside, playing guys off the bounce, post-ups, he was making some really good moves. They adjusted and started double-teaming him, and he made some great passes out of those double-teams and we got wide open looks that normally go down for us, and they didn’t go down for us.”

Virginia guard Kihei Clark started to go to work in the second half, taking advantage of switches and mismatches to dart into the lane for easy layups. He went by Sean East more than once, on a tough night for the freshman point guard who finished with just two points and one assist in 26 minutes after a hot start to the year. McCall rolled with Keon Clergeot at the point guard spot for large stretches of the second half, citing Clergeot’s defensive effort.

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

“It was more just Keon, his experience, how hard he was playing defensively,” McCall said. “Clark just kept coming off a middle pick-and-roll and Sean was getting clipped a little bit, Clark just kept getting down the lane. I thought Keon’s ball pressure on Clark was better in that little middle pick-and-roll screening action, I thought Keon did a good job on him in that so we just wanted to roll with that defensively with Keon out there.”

Clark’s 12 points in the second half helped the Cavaliers build a lead that stretched as high as 16 when Clark hit two free throws after McCall was hit with a technical. Frustrations started to boil over for the Minutemen as they were hit with some ticky tack fouls while the shots still wouldn’t fall.

“We had a chance there, we cut it to nine, TJ hits a big three, got a chance, had a good trap, thought the guy may have shuffled his feet a bit,” McCall said. “All of a sudden you get that back, you have a chance to call a timeout and run another action and maybe get another three.”

Pierre and Weeks combined to hit three triples in the final minutes, but it was too little, too late, and Virginia cruised late to a 58-46 win.

“I don’t think there are going to be too many nights like that, like coach says,” Pierre said. “It does feel like a missed opportunity, but what can we do, we’ve got to move onto the next one.”

UMass will wrap up the 2019 Basketball Hall of Fame Tournament at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday taking on the loser of Saturday’s St. John’s/Arizona State matchup.

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