Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s basketball survives comeback attempt by La Salle at home

Minutemen led by 17 points in the first half
Sophia-Zoe Schreyer
Sophie-Zoe Schreyer/Daily Collegian

A 17-point lead for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team quickly disappeared in the second half before the Minutemen edged out an 80-74 win over La Salle.

With 30 seconds left in the first half, the Explorers (7-17, 2-12 Atlantic 10) grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed free throw and turned it into a 3-pointer, which was the start of a major momentum shift for La Salle going into the half.

“I thought that was huge,” UMass (12-13, 5-8 A-10) head coach Matt McCall said of the 3-pointer. “… All we talked about at the half was just ‘hey, we got to come out, we got to be aggressive, this lead can evaporate´… sure thing, it evaporated.”

A strong first half for the Minutemen peaked with a 17-point lead with a minute left in the half. Things started to look bleak when La Salle vaporized that lead by going on a 21-5 run, tying the game midways through the second half.

The defense fell apart and the offense stalled as jump shots stopped falling. The Explorers gave UMass some trouble on the offensive glass and, most importantly, revived Clifton Moore after his scoreless first half.

Moore — La Salle’s leading scorer — went on a tear in the second half and ignited his team’s charge. He had 16 points, four rebounds, four assists and two blocks in the final 20 minutes before fouling out late in the game.

“We were in foul trouble,” La Salle head coach Ashley Howard said. “So I think one of the major adjustments was we got [Moore] right back in the game, he keeps us connected on defense. We were able to get [Moore] some looks, get the ball inside for him in the beginning of the second half.”

Michael Steadman matched up on Moore the entire first half and McCall had his defense double team Moore every time he caught the ball in the post, essentially forcing other Explorers to take initiative. Guards Jhamir Brickus and Jack Clark rose to the occasion.

Brickus stuffed the stat sheet with 18 points, six rebounds, six assists and a game-high seven turnovers, which cost his team heavily as La Salle finished the game with 18 turnovers and were outscored 23-6 in points off turnovers.

Clark scored 18 points, tying with Brickus and UMass’ C.J. Kelly for a game-high performance. He made three 3-pointers and had four steals but finished with four turnovers.

C.J. Kelly led the scoring department for the Minutemen with 18 points in 6-of-8 shooting to go along with eight rebounds. Rich Kelly followed him closely with 17 points and five assists.

Greg Jones also had a notable performance. The forward tallied 10 points, three rebounds and a block in 18 minutes, playing one of the most important roles in stopping La Salle’s comeback attempt.

With 10 minutes left and a tied game, Jones reignited the Minutemen offense by himself with eight points in a row, including back-to-back 3-pointers. He also was McCall’s option at the five-spot in crunch time.

The Minutemen were having a poor 3-point shooting performance up to that point. But starting with Jones, they picked it up and made five of their last seven shots from beyond the arc.

Steadman took on a big scoring role early on. The big man gave the Minutemen much-needed paint scoring with his jump hooks and finished the first half as the only player in double digits.

Attacking the paint isn’t UMass’ bread and butter, but that’s where it found an answer on Saturday when its 3-point shooting wasn’t falling. The Minutemen outscored La Salle 34-24 in the paint and 23-12 at the free throw line.

“We missed some open looks, but I didn’t think we were forcing threes,” McCall said. “…They switch pick-and-rolls a lot so Clifton Moore was on our guards a lot, and our guards didn’t settle and just bomb shots, they put pressure on the paint and at the basket, and we did a good job getting to the foul line.”

The Minutemen face Dayton at 7 p.m. on the road next Wednesday.

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

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