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 suffers 78-75 OT loss to Harvard

Minutemen plagued by bad free throw shooting
Daily Collegian (2023)

It was a winnable game for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team as it led for just over 27 of the game’s 45 minutes. The Minutemen offense started slow, but it found its groove at times. Frank Martin’s defense didn’t put in its strongest performance, but there were moments throughout the game where players shined on that end.

However, the home team’s play wasn’t enough, as Harvard (4-0) handed the Minutemen (2-1) their first loss of the season in a 78-75 overtime affair on Friday. There were other Crimson players who stepped up in big moments, but on this night it was freshman guard Malik Mack who kept the Harvard offense flowing with a game-high 32 points.

“We knew [Mack] was good,” head coach Frank Martin said. “Give him credit, man. That kid’s a freshman. Sometimes you got to pat people on the butt and compliment them. Our guys did everything I could ask of them to figure out a way to win.”

It was a gritty performance from a UMass team that came into Friday boasting a relatively stress-free start to the season. After entering halftime with a nine-point lead, the Crimson clawed their way back, mainly due to a shot-making clinic put on by Mack.

The point guard used a quick first step and shifty ball handling to separate himself from Minutemen defenders, going 6-of-8 on his second half shot attempts and burying a big three-pointer in overtime. He’s now averaging 21.8 points per game in his first season.

For UMass, despite Mack’s heroics for the opposition, his efforts could have all been for nothing if the Minutemen had simply made their free throws. UMass finished the night shooting just 10-of-25 (40 percent) from the charity stripe: Josh Cohen was the team’s most unreliable, going 3-of-10 from the line.

“You lose in overtime and you go 10-for-25 from the foul line –– you can’t [do that],” Martin said. “If we had made free throws early in the second half, now coming into the last media [timeout], we’re up five rather than up two or whatever it was. We made some defensive mistakes…we still would’ve survived if we made free throws.”

Despite their shortcomings at the line and a relatively below-average offensive performance, crashing the boards and fighting for loose balls kept the Minutemen in the game. For Matt Cross in particular, the senior had the best rebounding performance of his career, elevating for nine offensive and seven defensive rebounds to give his team a series of second-chance opportunities.

At the end of both regulation and overtime, UMass had chances to get out of Mullins Center with its undefeated record still in hand. With the game tied at 70 in regulation and time dwindling, an offensive rebound made its way out to Rahsool Diggins, who took a contested three at the buzzer that bounced off the front of the rim.

In overtime, a Cross rebound off a missed Harvard free throw gave the Minutemen 19 seconds to score three points. With precious seconds ticking off the clock and UMass fans growing restless, it became clear that the Minutemen were going to have to get all three in one possession. The three-point attempt came from freshman Jaylen Curry, who shot a contested ball that banked off the front rim.

“What we were trying to do there at the end…whatever way Jaylen went, [Daniel Hankins-Sanford] popped to one sideline and Rob just popped dead-center,” Martin said. “No one moved. They kind of stood there and Jaylen tried to make a play.”

For the Crimson, past Mack’s career-high 32 in just his fourth collegiate contest, guards Chandler Pigge and Louis Lesmond contributed 15 and 14, respectively. UMass was led by Cross with 16, followed by Cohen and Rahsool Diggins, who each scored 13.

After 45 hard-fought minutes, the Minutemen get a few days off before returning to Mullins on Wednesday to face Central Connecticut State. Tipoff for that game is at 2:00 p.m. on ESPN+.

Dean Wendel can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @DeanWende1.

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    Neal WarnerNov 18, 2023 at 9:35 am

    FREE…. throws. Make them and it’s a DUB