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

Heartbreak for UMass, elation for Loyola: Minutemen lose in final seconds

Minutemen lose off a Philip Alston and-one with one second left
Matt Skillings
Daily Collegian (2023)

After trailing for most of the contest, fighting its way back into a physical game, then sitting in the driver’s seat to grab a big Atlantic 10 win, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team left Chicago with its heart broken after a 79-78 loss to Loyola Chicago on Wednesday.

Once again, the Minutemen (11-6, 2-3 A-10) dropped the game at the free throw line. Four missed foul shots in the final 1:30 of the game left the door open for the Ramblers (12-5, 4-1 A-10). Down by four, UMass began crunch time with an 8-0 run starting with under five minutes to go, turning the game around for a three-point lead. Then Philip Alston took over the pain. He scored his team’s final eight points with less than two minutes left, none more dramatic than the last.

He had a chance to tie the game at 77 apiece with a free throw with 12 seconds left, but missed it. After Daniel Hankins-Sanford rebounded it and got fouled with nine seconds to go, he went to the line for more crucial foul shots. Made the first one to put the Minutemen up two, missed the second. There went the Ramblers the other way, with the clock ticking down. Alston got a look at the rim in transition, missed it, picked up his own miss and put it in the basket to tie it with one second on the clock, plus the foul.

Before the deciding free throw, UMass coach Frank Martin called a timeout to ice Alston, who was 4-for-9 from the foul line up to that point. Following the break, with the game tied at 78, Alston stepped up to the line.

His shot went in and out… and back in.

“Really disappointed,” said a visibly frustrated Martin. “I haven’t been this disappointed after a loss in a long time.”

After showing heart throughout most of the game to put themselves in position to win it on the road, the Minutemen didn’t make a field goal in the final 3:29, missed key free throws to close it out and allowed multiple second chances for the Ramblers.

“It’s what we’ve done all year,” Martin said of the team’s mentality to stay in it. “We don’t lay down, we don’t run out the door, but at the end of the day, playing hard and losing is totally unacceptable. And I’m tired of it. We did everything we’re supposed to do to put ourselves in a place to win and then we just peed down our leg and gave up the game and that’s totally unacceptable.”

Without Matt Cross for a second straight game, Minuteman star transfer Josh Cohen stepped up to the occasion, dominating the game from inside the paint. Cohen scored 28 points on 8-for-12 shooting and 12-for-16 at the line and grabbed eight rebounds, including four offensive. He knocked down two free throws with 30 seconds left to give UMass a two-point lead they couldn’t capitalize from.

Cohen played a season-high 37 minutes on Wednesday. It was his third straight game with at least 23 points and eight rebounds.

The second leading scorer for the Minutemen of the night, Jaylen Curry, was a huge reason they were still in the thick of things by halftime. He finished with 18 points on 5-of-13 shooting, including 4-of-7 from deep, 4-of-4 at the foul line and a few massive buckets for the visitors.

The hosts had no answer for Cohen’s strength, footwork and finishing all night. Curry added a different dimension to the offense. UMass also had an above average shooting night from the perimeter at 40 percent. But outside of that, there really wasn’t much more for the Minutemen, and they struggled to guard the ball all game.

“Matt Cross is not here,” Martin said, “we’re not going to sit there and look out the door to see if he’s coming in at halftime. You know, we prepared without him, we played well enough to win without him and we had no discipline and no courage to close out the game.”

Alston, Loyola’s main man, scored 23 points and six rebounds on 9-of-17 shooting. His physicality and athleticism in the paint defined the game’s final moments. Ramblers guard Des Watson followed with 15 points and nine rebounds on 5-of-13 shooting.

UMass trailed for most of the contest, at times by double digits; but after many small-scale comeback attempts fell short, its efforts to just stay in the game finally paid off when it took the lead with 10 minutes left. From there, what was an incredibly physical and entertaining game became a slow fight from the free throw line with every small contact. Both teams got into the double bonus in the first part of the second half. Two players fouled out for each team.

“Our zone helped us,” Martin said of the fouling. “We made one mistake on zone, one, and their guy [Braden] Norris makes a 30-foot three. Could have missed, but he didn’t; the one mistake we made, he made it. The zone allowed us to kind of keep them away from attacking us off the bounce, which made them just kind of stand still and shoot jumped shots.

“But at the end of the day, all we did was reach in, reach in, reach in, reach in, reach in, and put them on the line for free throw after free throw after free throw. But every time we got to have the courage to box out and go get a rebound, we don’t do it.”

The game was a foul-off between the two teams until about the five-minute mark, when it got back to a heart-racing contest after the Minutemen went on a run to take the lead. A recurring theme so far this season, UMass showed tremendous resilience throughout the game — to come back from down 11 in the first half, on the road, against a top team in the conference is no easy feat. But once again, it fell short at the charity stripe — another consistent theme.

The Minutemen lost consecutive games for the first time this season, and remain winless on the road.

“We got to figure out a way to win,” Martin said. “Losing is not acceptable. Playing hard and clapping and saying ‘good try fellas,’ under my watch, that’s never going to be acceptable. We’re expected to play hard, we’re expected to win. And when we put ourselves in a situation to win a game, we got to have the discipline and the courage to go win the game.”

UMass will return home to face George Washington on Saturday, Jan. 20. Tip-off is set for noon.

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

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