UMass dominated by Saint Louis on the road on Sunday

Minutemen outrebounded 55-35 by the Billikens

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McKenna Premus/Daily Collegian

By Pedro Gray Soares, Collegian Staff

In Sunday’s game versus Saint Louis, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team pulled their starters from the game for all the wrong reasons.

What was once a 2-point game midway through the first half quickly turned into a 30-point slaughter midway through the second half, when UMass (8-10, 1-5 Atlantic 10) head coach Matt McCall decided to give his bench players some playing time. By the final buzzer, the score was 90-59 favoring the Billikens (12-6, 3-2 A-10).

“I thought we were competing at a high, high level in the first half, I thought we had some chances there, but we were shooting an abysmal percentage from the field,” McCall said.

The clash was the second leg of back-to-back games between the two teams, which means this was bound to be a game of adjustments. UMass took the win last time around in a high-scoring contest, but Saint Louis adjusted masterfully on Sunday and dominated in every aspect.

“We knew that they were going to be much, much more physical in this game, jam up some wings and not let us just run our offense,” McCall said. “They weren’t going to let us come into their building and just hang 91 points on them, that wasn’t going to happen.”

He believes that the Billikens’ pressure with the full court press and jamming up the wings was their biggest adjustment, and that their aggressiveness and physicality on the wings caused UMass to get stagnant.

Other than forward Trent Buttrick, the Minutemen’s offense was lackluster. Buttrick led UMass with 17 points, five rebounds and four 3-pointers. Javohn Garcia showed some nice things in garbage time and finished with 14 points, and big man Michael Steadman followed with 8 points but only two rebounds.

For the Billikens, sophomore Gibson Jimerson and freshman Jordan Nesbitt stole the show. Jimerson tore apart the Minutemen defense with his outside shooting, finishing with a career-high 31 points and made 7-of-10 3-pointers.

Nesbitt earned the first double-double of his young career, with an efficient 17 points and 12 rebounds in 20 minutes. Guard Yuri Collins also had a double-double with a 10 points, 12 assists and only one turnover.

Along with an extremely cold shooting night for UMass (29 percent from the field, 27 percent from three), one of the most important reasons behind the outcome of the game was the interior battle, which Saint Louis won handily. The Billikens outrebounded the Minutemen 55-45 in total, 22-13 in offensive boards, outscored them 46-14 in the paint, and 25-13 in second chance points.

“I think you look at this game over the years, I think the team that generally outrebounds the other team, outside of the other night where they only outrebounded us by one, has won the game,” McCall said. “They hang their hat on that, coach [Travis] Ford’s teams always do that, they’re an extremely physical team [it] just seems like we could not get a rebound… and we’ve got to do a much better job there.”

Nerves seemed to peak midway through the first half when the Minutemen were punished with two technical fouls, but the high energy that had kept them in the game up to that point disappeared as Saint Louis’ lead grew to 33 points with a 25-2 run.

The visitors were no longer jumping for loose balls every other possession, keeping active hands, fighting for every rebound, and tipping boards they had no business even getting to. Smothering defense by Saint Louis and a lack of offensive resourcefulness by UMass quickly turned what was an extremely intense game into a practice session for both team’s bench players.

“I thought in the second half that our effort dipped; I thought we got a little bit too consumed with what was going on on the offensive end of the floor and that completely bled into our defense, and that’s how the game got away from us,” McCall said.

The Minutemen will travel to Philadelphia, PA for a road matchup against La Salle on Wednesday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.

Pedro Gray Soares can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @P_GraySoares.