UMass men’s basketball can’t overcome early deficit, late struggles in blowout loss to GW

Minutemen fall by 24 at home

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UMass men’s basketball can’t overcome early deficit, late struggles in blowout loss to GW

Nina Walat

Nina Walat

Nina Walat

By Amin Touri, Editor in Chief

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Things seemed so promising at the under-12 media timeout.

Having begun to dug itself out of a big hole early in the second half against George Washington on Saturday, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team put together a bit of a run: trailing 45-23, Tre Mitchell got going inside and out, UMass strung together some stops and a 19-5 run brought the Minutemen within eight with 11:40 to go after trailing by as much as 22 early on.

Things fell apart over those next 11-plus minutes, as the Colonials regained control of the game and pulled away en route to a 75-51 win at the Mullins Center.

“Give GW all the credit in the world,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “Way better-coached, way more connected, way, just — way better. Not even close. They deserved to win the game, and they were better than us in every facet of the basketball game and that’s disappointing.”

UMass (7-11, 1-4 Atlantic 10) could only muster nine points in the final 11:40, finishing the game shooting a poor 36.4 percent from the field and an even worse 20.8 percent from 3-point range. Mitchell led the Minutemen with 13, with Carl Pierre and Sean East both reaching double-digits but struggling at times from the floor.

Armel Potter and Maceo Jack each posted at least 20 for GW as the Colonials cruised to a 24-point win on the road.

The Minutemen made things tough for themselves from the jump, quickly falling behind 20-12 by the midway point of the first half. The deficit swelled to 16 by halftime, as UMass couldn’t buy a bucket with a collective 2-of-14 shooting from deep in the first half.

“I thought we had some good looks in the first half that didn’t go down, and I think it completely affected us,” McCall said. “They were doubling Tre and he’s kicking out and we missed some shots that we always generally make.”

The Minutemen especially stagnated offensively when Mitchell went to the bench with two fouls with more than nine minutes to play in the half; he wouldn’t return until after halftime, with McCall opting to keep his star big man from any further foul trouble and riding Djery Baptiste — a defensive anchor at times but a limited offensive player — at center for the rest of the first half.

“I was talking to the staff, there was a point where it was a 10-point game with five minutes to go in the first half, and I was like, alright, if we can keep this around 10 or get it to eight or six and keep it there, let’s just leave [Mitchell] on the bench and not pick up his third,” McCall said. “It never really got there, the game kept going up and down, the game got sloppy and there wasn’t an opportunity to get him back in there.”

Once Mitchell returned, UMass started to figure things out — Mitchell threw nice passes out of double teams for open threes for Carl Pierre and Dibaji Walker, which forced GW to throw fewer double teams at Mitchell in the post. The big man started to eat inside to put the Minutemen within striking distance before two Sean East layups cut the lead to just eight. Colonials coach Jamion Christian needed a timeout, and McCall was visibly fired up going into the under-12 break.

Out of the huddle it all went wrong very quickly, as plenty of UMass momentum quickly turned into a 10-0 GW run and the Minutemen never got closer than 16 from there. The Colonials stretched the lead as high as 26, settling for a 24-point blowout win.

“We changed defenses, we ended up going zone because we can’t guard anybody off the bounce,” McCall said. “We went zone and we had some success, we were trying to kind of tempo press back to a zone there. We lose Maceo Jack there in the corner, and I could’ve made that shot, he had so much time to get it off. Kind of a deflating play when you have so much momentum and it’s an eight-point game.

“That three he hit was deflating, and we did not respond.”

The Colonials were very efficient on Saturday, shooting 51 percent from the field and 46.7 percent from three. UMass had one decent 10-minute stretch — offensively and defensively — to open the second half, but could neither guard nor score for much of the remaining half hour of the game.

“We just cannot guard the ball,” McCall said. “We get on the side of guys, guys just blow by us, it’s one dribble, in and out, down the lane. It’s game after game after game after game.

“I’m not a very good coach right now. Call it like it is. I’m doing a bad job. You can’t play at the level we’ve shown we’re capable of playing at and then go out there and perform like that. I think that’s coaching. I’m very upset with myself more than anything.”

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