UMass men’s basketball loses late to No. 6 Dayton Saturday

Freshman Tre Mitchell scored 26 points in the loss

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Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

By Javier Melo, Assistant Sports Editor

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team hung in but fell late to No. 6 Dayton at home Saturday afternoon.

While UMass (10-15, 4-8 Atlantic 10) wasn’t able to secure a victory, the Minutemen were able to hold an early lead and keep it close for long stretches. But a second half barrage by junior Jalen Crutcher and continued pressure was enough to push the Flyers (23-2, 12-0 A-10) to the win.

“I thought we had 35 minutes of really good effort,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “To beat a team like Dayton, you’ve got to have 40. You’ve got to have everyone completely locked in every single possession.

“You’ve got to be almost mistake-free in a game like that. We had our chances and even then we battled back.”

The Minutemen started the game going toe-to-toe with Dayton, jumping out to an early lead that they held for the majority of the first 10 minutes. UMass came out and played with infectious energy that showed in its defensive play. In the opening stretch of the game, the Minutemen forced six turnovers, which turnovers turned into transition opportunities that got the crowd at the Mullins Center very vocal.

Defensively, UMass was excellent to open the game. Offensively, however, it was a different story. After jumping out to a 15-10 lead with 12:52 remaining, the Minutemen went on a scoring drought that lasted until the 3:33 mark. In that time, Dayton was able to amass a 25-15 lead. A tip-in by freshman Preston Santos ended the drought, followed by a steal by Carl Pierre that led to a Samba Diallo layup in transition to cut the lead to six points.

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

UMass was able to get another steal from Pierre that led to a pair of free throws that he was able to connect on. Before the half ended, sophomore Obi Toppin hit a three just before the buzzer to give Dayton a 31-26 lead.

The Flyers only managed to secure a five-point lead in a half where UMass didn’t score for over nine minutes due in large part to the stout defense that the Minutemen were able to play. Recently, McCall has installed a defensive scheme where the players rotate between zone and man-to-man with some pressing as a way to confuse their opponents. In the first half, it worked.

“It was just their defense kind of confused us a little bit,” Crutcher said. “They were showing zone, going man, man-zone — and it just kind of confused us so we just kind of had to get adjusted.”

The second half started out well for UMass, which scored first on a Tre Mitchell layup to cut the deficit to three points. Dayton came out swinging as well, following that basket by connecting on three straight shots to push its lead to 10 points.

UMass came clawing right back, a theme for the Minutemen on Saturday, and strung together enough baskets to avoid a hot stretch by the Flyers. The Minutemen fought all the way to a 46-41 deficit before Crutcher shut them down a hot shooting stretch that saw him score 11 straight points, including three 3-pointers, one of which was from the logo near midcourt as the shot clock expired. The two-minute barrage brought the Dayton lead to 74-43 and seemed like the game was well in hand with seven minutes left on the clock.

“At times we were right there and they had that one stretch in the second half where they pulled out to a 16-point lead, Crutcher goes nuts, hits the three straight threes,” McCall said. “We dropped a little on screens in pick-and-rolls a couple of times and just let him get loose and you just can’t do that.”

The Flyers’ lead extended all the way out to 63-47 with 4:12 left. That was when Tre Mitchell decided to take over. The freshman made a layup and followed that up with a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession to make it an 11-point game. Dibaji Walker hit a pair of free throws to cut it to nine points with just under a minute and a half left. After a Kolton Mitchell steal and a pair of missed free throws, Samba Diallo stole the ball and slammed it down to bring the lead down to seven points with 1:01 remaining.

From that point forward, the teams played the free-throw game. Rodney Chatman made two to put Dayton back up by nine. Then K. Mitchell split a pair, but when he made the second, a foul call on Dayton that sent Diallo to the line, where he’d hit both to cut the deficit to six points.

Crutcher was fouled and hit two free throws before a foul on Diallo sent him to the line again. He made both to bring the score to 67-61 with just 23 seconds left. UMass sent Toppin to the line, where he missed both free throws, which led to a Carl Pierre reverse layup to cut the lead to four points with 14 seconds left.

That was where the excitement ended, as Crutcher went to the line and hit two free throws, Pierre missed a three, and Dwayne Cohill hit a pair from the line to close out the game. UMass created some drama at the end, but the Flyers walked out of Mullins with the win.

“There were a couple of big plays there where we helped them by fouling,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “Getting the clock stopped and they’re able to put points on the board with the clock stopped and I think under two minutes to play. Then there were a couple of big turnovers where we just didn’t do the things that we needed to do to take care of the ball under those circumstances, knowing that they were going to be aggressive and go for steals and go to foul.”

UMass is back at home on Tuesday to take on Saint Louis at 7 p.m.

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