Late-game execution sinks resilient UMass in overtime loss to Saint Louis

Late turnovers costly for Minutemen

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Late-game execution sinks resilient UMass in overtime loss to Saint Louis

Nina Walat

Nina Walat

Nina Walat

By Amin Touri, Editor in Chief

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Down by three with seconds to go in overtime, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team had three looks.

Having trailed Saint Louis on the road by eight points midway through the second half, reeling from an 18-2 Billiken run that put the Minutemen on the ropes, UMass (6-8, 0-1 A-10) managed to fight back and force overtime in its Atlantic 10 opener. Despite leading by five with three minutes to go in the extra period, the Minutemen were looking at a three-point deficit in the final seconds.

Carl Pierre drove inside with 10 seconds to go and a wild floater wouldn’t go, but UMass’ captain grabbed his own rebound and threw it out to an open Sean East. East threw up a pump fake, stepped to his left and let fly a three to tie it, but it hit front rim. Samba Diallo tipped the rebound back to East, East tipped it to Keon Clergeot and Clergeot found Pierre open in the corner.

Pierre’s three wouldn’t go either, and the Minutemen couldn’t quite pull off the upset in an 83-80 loss at Chaifetz Arena.

Tre Mitchell’s 20 points and nine rebounds led the way for UMass, while 18 points from East and another 16 from Pierre weren’t quite enough to overcome a handful of mistakes in the final minutes of overtime. The Minutemen turned it over 25 times on Sunday, including two giveaways in the final 1:06 that put the game away.

“We talked about — going into the game — if we could do two things, we would put ourselves in position to win,” UMass coach Matt McCall told WMUA post-game. “One of those was rebound the basketball, and we outrebounded a top-10 rebounding team in the country, and the other one was take care of the basketball. Ultimately, not taking care of the basketball cost us the game.”

SLU (12-3, 1-1 A-10) took a one-point lead into the locker room after a back-and-forth first half in which neither team led by more than five at any point. Hasahn French was a consistent handful for the Minutemen, as the Billiken big man put up 19 points and 13 rebounds inside to lead a 62-point night in the paint for SLU.

The Minutemen controlled the first few minutes of the second half, with an East floater putting the visitors up by eight with 13:45 to play. From there, the Billikens ripped off an 18-2 run in the space of just over three minutes to swing the momentum and bring the home crowd back into it.

UMass wouldn’t go away, and a 12-4 run of their own helped the Minutemen tie things up with 5:41 to go. McCall largely relied on freshmen East and Mitchell offensively, with those two plus Pierre, Clergeot and Samba Diallo playing much of the second half and overtime.

“Those guys aren’t freshmen anymore,” McCall said of East and Mitchell. “They’ve played in too many games now. We’ve got to find ways to get other guys going. We’ve got to find ways to get Dibaji [Walker] going here, but Sean and Tre were terrific tonight, Carl was terrific tonight. We ended up rolling with that lineup there for the majority of the second half and it was good for us. It got us back in the game.”

As things slowed down in the final minutes, a handful of hustle plays kept UMass alive.

After East missed a step-back three with 90 seconds to go and a four-point deficit, Diallo dove on a loose rebound to force a jump ball and maintain possession, perhaps the biggest of his 14 rebounds on the day. East redeemed himself off the inbound, driving inside and finishing with his trademark lefty floater to pull UMass within two.

After Clergeot snagged a rebound on the other end but was called for a travel, SLU took the ball underneath its own basket with 27 seconds to play with the shot clock off and a chance to ice the game. East had been making plays all day and made another — he jumped the inbound pass near half-court to start a 3-on-1, feeding Carl Pierre for a layup to tie things up with 22 seconds to play and send it to overtime.

“I just felt like we kept battling, and we talked in every timeout about staying calm but being intense, and we did that,” McCall told WMUA. “They got up eight or nine or whatever it was and we kept battling, got some stops, got some baskets there. All we talked about every time out, coming.”

UMass led by five with 2:55 to go in overtime, but the execution started to fall apart in the final moments. East got French on a switch with just over a minute to play in a tie game, but slipped on a step-back as the shot clock dwindled, forcing him to throw an off-balance prayer that never had a chance and leading to a shot clock violation.

French hit a free throw, and the Minutemen had a chance to take the lead late. Diallo was open cutting baseline with 30 seconds to go, but Mitchell’s pass was just behind him and what seemed like a sure layup became another costly turnover.

“Too many turnovers, too many turnovers at crucial points in the game,” McCall told WMUA. “That ultimately cost us a win today, which would’ve been a great win on the road for this basketball team.”

Two more SLU free throws made it 83-80, and none of UMass’ final looks went down. It was an impressive fight back for a team that looked dead in the water midway through the second half, but it wasn’t quite enough.

The Minutemen remain without freshman TJ Weeks, who hasn’t played since a Dec. 7 trip to Harvard with an undisclosed abdominal issue, but have gained Walker, whose waiver cleared ahead of the Akron game on Dec. 30, and Kolton Mitchell, who returned from a broken hand on Sunday. The depth is slowly returning as UMass continues A-10 play against La Salle at home on Wednesday.

“We’re going to need everybody,” McCall told WMUA. “We need all hands on deck — Dibaji, Djery [Baptiste], Preston [Santos], Kolton, everyone that suits up that’s healthy, we’re going to need going forward.

“No time to feel sorry, got to pick your head up, and we’ve got two days to prepare for La Salle.”

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