Late rally not enough for UMass in 84-80 loss to South Carolina

UMass had four scorers in double digits

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Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

By Javier Melo, Assistant Sports Editor

After making a furious comeback in the final moments, he Massachusetts men’s basketball team lost a nail-biter at home to South Carolina, 84-80 on Wednesday. The Minutemen (5-4) couldn’t overcome the turnovers and empty possessions that allowed the Gamecocks (6-3) to pull away and eventually seal the game.

“I was proud of our guys from the standpoint that we’ve got a top-10, top-five defensive team in the country and we scored 80 points,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “The problem is we turned the ball over 19 times and gave up 84. It’s hard to win when you give up that many points.”

UMass started the game clicking offensively, going up 19-10 midway through the first half. In that early stretch, Tre Mitchell and TJ Weeks combined for 13 of those points. The Minutemen also did a good job on the defensive end early, forcing six turnovers during that stretch of the first half.

After that, South Carolina made adjustments and started to find shots at the rim. The Gamecocks went on a 10-0 run to go up 20-19, each basket scored in the paint. The two teams traded leads until South Carolina broke away in the final minutes of the first half.

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

At halftime the Minutemen trailed 39-35. Gamecocks guard A.J. Lawson, who found the majority of his looks at the rim, led all scorers with 15 points. South Carolina ended the half with 30 points in the paint and shooting 48.6 percent from the field.

In the second half, UMass and South Carolina were playing tug-o-war with the lead. Every time the Minutemen scored, the Gamecocks got a layup on the other end. The defense was getting torn apart each possession and UMass had no counter.

On the offensive side, turnovers cost UMass multiple possessions and a lot of easy looks just didn’t fall.

With 2:40 remaining, Lawson hit a three in the corner to give the Gamecocks an 11-point lead. Keon Clergeot responded two possessions later with a three of his own to cut the lead to eight.

It was at this point where South Carolina’s poor free throw shooting provided UMass with a spark.

After South Carolina big Alanzo Frink went 1-of-2 from the free throw line to make the score 79-70, Sean East sunk a pair of free throws on the other end to cut the lead to seven. Center Maik Kotsar split a pair of free throws and UMass responded with a Carl Pierre layup.

The crowd exploded after Keyshawn Bryant split his free throws and Weeks drilled a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to four points with 23 seconds remaining.

After a near-turnover underneath the UMass basket on the inbounds play, Lawson split a pair of free throws, and Pierre came down and hits a three to make it 82-80 South Carolina with eight seconds left. But Lawson went to the line again, sinking both free throws to ice the game.

“I told them I was really proud of them,” McCall said. “We didn’t quit. Coming out of a timeout, executing, run a play and get TJ in the corner. Ran another play, kept executing and our guys just kept fighting. We gave ourselves a chance. One missed free throw here or there, you never know what could happen.”

The Gamecocks finished the game with 52 points in the paint, while Lawson finished with 24 points. For the Minutemen, four scorers finished in double figures, led by Mitchell’s 17.

UMass had a chance towards the end of the game, but 19 turnovers and a poor performance at the free-throw line did them in offensively.

“You hate to say too little, too late but I guess that’s really what happened,” Pierre said. “We just really wanted to win and I think that sense of urgency, we have to have that for a full 40 minutes.”

Javier can be reached by email at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @JMeloSports.