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’ crunch time run not enough to beat Dayton

Minutemen show outstanding tenacity to come back in second half despite off shooting night
Kalina Kornacki
Daily Collegian (2023)

In one of the program’s most difficult games over the past few years, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team came within the final minute of beating the best team in the conference, Dayton, on the road. The final at UD Arena on Sunday was 64-60 in favor of the Flyers.

After falling behind by 13 points with less than 10 minutes to go, the Minutemen (10-4, 1-1 Atlantic 10) grinded out a comeback through tenacity on defense and on the offensive glass. Over the next six minutes UMass went on 6-0 and 8-0 runs to make it a two-point game with 3:26 to go. That second run came with 4:55 left and included a Matt Cross layup, a Jayden Ndjigue and-one and a massive Josh Cohen 3-pointer followed by a timeout. Dayton’s lead proved too steep to overcome, as the Minutemen couldn’t convert in their final possessions and the Flyers (12-2, 2-0 A-10) made their free throws to ice the game.

But even with the loss, UMass fans can be optimistic: coming this close to beating Dayton on the road despite shooting 3-for-22 from three speaks to the level it has reached early in the season.

“I’m not into moral victories,” head coach Frank Martin said. “Moral victories are for people that expect to lose. But I’m really proud of our guys, man. Really proud of our guys. Disappointed. We had a chance to take a huge step forward as a program but it wasn’t quite good enough.” 

For reasons why the Minutemen managed to stick around Sunday, look no further than their presence on the offensive glass. UMass finished with 20 offensive rebounds, a season high in a non-overtime game. Of those 20, 12 came in the second half, where players like Matt Cross and Jayden Ndjigue were consistently muscling their way past Flyers into good positioning. The Minutemen outrebounded Dayton 45-33 overall and 20-6 offensively. As such, they won in second-chance points 18-7.

“Rebounding is a big part of what we talk about every day,” Martin said. “If we make jump shots, we got a chance to win. If we don’t make jump shots, then we better really, really rebound the basketball and be really, really good defensively…it’s kind of exactly what happened.”

Once again, Cross was the catalyst for that toughness and rebounding. The star senior went to battle inside against the conference’s reigning Player of the Year, Da’Ron Holmes II.

Both tied for the most points in the game with 18 apiece; Cross reached his 18 on 7-of-11 shooting and added a game-high 14 rebounds, including five offensive. Holmes did it on 7-of-14 shooting and a surprising 3-for-6 from beyond the arc.

Beyond the two stars, Josh Cohen scored 15 points and had nine rebounds for the Minutemen, while going 5-for-13 from the floor. Even with Cross’ big night, the ball went to Cohen’s hands in crunch time. With two minutes to go in a two-point game, Cohen’s three-point attempt from the top of the key barely rimmed out. Then with 33 seconds left and still a two-point Dayton lead, Cohen got the ball in the paint and saw his trademark fadeaway push-shot hit the front iron.

That late-game miss was one of many in the second half. Despite both teams boasting two of the highest-scoring offenses in the A-10, the final 20 minutes were defined by defensive stops and empty possessions. After a hot start for the Flyers that had UD Arena fans on their feet, they scored the same amount of points (20) in the game’s first nine minutes as they did over the final 17 minutes. Martin choosing to switch to a 2-3 zone was a major reason why. 

“The last five, six minutes of the first half, I thought [Dayton] got a little stagnant,” Martin said. “And then going into the second half, my mindset was ‘[I’ll go man-to-man] but I’m going to go to the zone pretty quick and as long as the zone’s working, I’m [going to] stay in it.’”

Dayton’s start put the Minutemen behind early. The Flyers made five of their first six shots and built up a 14-point lead midway through the first half. They shot a 50-47-100 split in the first half, with the near 47 percent from three coming on 7-of-15 attempts. Meanwhile, the Minutemen finished the half shooting 1-for-9 from beyond the arc. 

UMass guard Rahsool Diggins had the toughest shooting performance of the day. He came in as the team’s third leading scorer, but his eight points came on 4-for-17 shooting, including 0-for-10 from three. Keon Thompson also had a night to forget, with zero points on 0-for-4 shooting.

With the Minutemen’s toughest opponent out of the way, they can now look confidently upon the rest of their schedule. As of Sunday, UMass has one Quad-1 game remaining, per KenPom: Feb. 7 at St. Bonaventure. For the immediate future, the Minutemen’s next four games are all Quad-3 or Quad-4 contests, providing opportunities for the team to climb their way up the conference standings.

The first of those matchups is Wednesday, when the La Salle Explorers take on UMass at home. Tipoff is at 7 p.m., and the game can be streamed on the NBC Sports app.

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