Offensive woes bring UMass down against Towson

Minutemen offense unable to mount a comeback

Dylan+Nguyen+%2F+Daily+Collegian

Dylan Nguyen / Daily Collegian

By Pedro Gray Soares, Assistant Sports Editor

Missed opportunities and poor offense led the Massachusetts men’s basketball team to a 67-55 loss against its first tough test of the season, the Towson Tigers.

In a tough, physical game from start to finish, UMass (1-1) couldn’t find its footing on offense and failed to take opportunities when the door opened for a comeback. The Minutemen adjusted on defense in the second half, outscoring Towson (2-0) 27-25 in the period, but it wasn’t enough to charge back into the game.

“I said [to the players], ‘You guys are going to go play this game and you’re going to find out what it’s like to play against a winning team,’” UMass coach Frank Martin said. “Because winning teams don’t overwhelm you with talent. They punish you for your mistakes, and every time we made a mistake today, [Towson] punished us.”

While the defense isn’t free of blame, the offense was responsible for many of those mistakes. The Minutemen’s offense revolves around getting the ball inside through entry passes. A lack of shooting allowed the Tigers to clog the paint, stagnating a chaotic and out-of-sync UMass.

Matt Cross and Isaac Kante led the way in offensive production. In his first game with the Minutemen, Cross finished with 13 points, shooting 2-for-3 from deep. He scored all his points in the first half, keeping Towson from running away with the game early. Kante added 13 points of his own on 6-for-8 shooting, providing the only interior threat the Minutemen had.

The Tigers made it look easy on defense. They showed top-level on-ball and off-ball defense that – albeit against a dysfunctional offense – denied driving and passing lanes with ease. One of UMass’ biggest problems was its inability to beat a defender with a first step off the dribble. When the Minutemen did manage to squeeze in the paint, they couldn’t finish.

UMass ended the game shooting 14-of-31 on layups. The off shooting night contributed to the Minutemen’s failed comeback attempt. UMass shot 34.5 percent from the field, 21.4 percent from three and 54.5 percent from the foul line.

“We didn’t deserve to win today,” Martin said. “We didn’t prepare well enough to go play a high-level opponent as far as who they are as a team. And we got to take advantage of the moment to learn and move forward not backwards.”

The loss marks the second game in a row in which Martin mentioned lackluster preparation by his team. Martin says the poor free-throw shooting performance is “directly correlated” to the lack of preparation coming into the game.

“As bad as I thought we played against [Central Connecticut State], we came in and practiced worse on Tuesday,” Martin said.

“When teams don’t practice well, I don’t believe they deserve to play well, and we were worse on [Tuesday’s practice] than we actually played on Monday. Then we came back yesterday and we started pretty good, but about 45, 50 minutes in and practice started dragging. An hour and 15 minutes in it was awful… I said ‘we’ll learn by the way we’ll play tomorrow.’ That’s exactly what happened. So now we got to learn.”

With a starting lineup consisting of two graduate students and three seniors, and a returning core of their top four scorers, the Tigers’ cohesion and toughness showed as it consistently made the right plays and won the rebounding battle.

Nicolas Timberlake’s 16-point first half certainly helped the visitors. Despite an improved second half performance by the Minutemen, the lead Timberlake built was too much for the hosts to overcome. He finished the game with 27 points on 10-for-14 shooting.

As the Minutemen attempt to gel under a new coach, they’ll look build chemistry and take strides towards the offense Martin wants.

“The season teaches you to either become a winning team or a losing team. You don’t go through the season and stay the same,” Martin said. “Winning teams take ownership individually and collectively. Every day, not just after a loss, and we’re trying to figure out who we are, we’re not there.”

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