UMass fades after strong start in Atlantic 10 Tournament

  • UMass guard Tre Wood drives to the basket against George Washington’s Marcus Littles, left, in the first half of their Atlantic 10 Tournament first-round matchup, Wednesday at the Barclays Center in New York. AP

  • UMass guard Carl Pierre drives against George Washington’s Shandon Brown, right, and Marcus Little in the first half of their Atlantic 10 Tournament first-round matchup, Wednesday at the Barclays Center in New York. J. Anthony Roberts

  • Jonathan Laurent, of UMass, shoots over George Washington’s Armel Potter in the first half of their Atlantic 10 Tournament first-round matchup, Wednesday at the Barclays Center in New York. AP

  • UMass center Rashaan Holloway shoots over George Washington’s Marcus Littles in the first half of their Atlantic 10 Tournament first-round matchup, Wednesday at the Barclays Center in New York. AP

Staff Writer
Published: 3/13/2019 8:49:05 PM

NEW YORK — For seven minutes and 12 seconds Wednesday afternoon, UMass played up to its abilities.

The Minutemen were the more motivated team, the grittier team and executed their offense to near perfection. The 13th-seeded team in the Atlantic 10 Tournament looked like the best version of itself, the team that most people expected to see more consistently this season.

But that potential only flashed in small samples in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The sizzling start against George Washington that electrified the fans in attendance cooled into a frustrating 68-64 overtime loss that brought an end to the Minutemen’s season.

“(We) really just, we come out there to play hard at the beginning,” sophomore Keon Clergeot said. “Then we really just came (out) flat in the second half. We just didn’t keep playing hard, but (I’m) very disappointed with how it ended.”

UMass (11-21) torched the George Washington zone defense to begin the game, making 10 of its first 13 shots to blitz out to a 14-point lead just 7:12 into the game. The Minutemen racked up five assists as the ball whizzed around the floor to the holes in the defense, a major emphasis for coach Matt McCall heading into the game. Everyone seemed to get involved in the early going as well with all five starters scoring at least one basket in the first four minutes.

Clergeot was particularly active for the Minutemen, scoring 11 of his career-high 25 points during that initial stretch for the Minutemen. He sank his first three 3-point attempts to help spark UMass while taking advantage of the Colonials’ desire to limit Rashaan Holloway’s effectiveness.

“They came out extremely prepared,” George Washington coach Maurice Joseph said. “We came out in our 2-3 zone, which was very successful for us in the first game, and they made some tremendous adjustments. They shot us out of our zone really quickly, Clergeot came out and played really, really well for them.”

But then George Washington switched to its man-to-man defense and UMass reverted back to a shell of its previous offensive form. The Minutemen made just 13 shots over the last 37:48 and had just two assists while committing 13 turnovers.

The biggest culprit were the illegal screens that placed the Minutemen’s forwards in foul trouble and helped the Colonials slowly chip away at the deficit. All four healthy scholarship forwards on the UMass roster picked up at least two fouls, which sullied promising possessions and gave the Colonials (9-23) some sparks of hope.

“We talk to these guys about when we’re running pick and rolls, you have to slow down and take a breath if you are a guard,” McCall said. “How many illegal screens did we have in the first half? Those guards have to stop, wait a second, have a good setup and then come off the pick and roll. We were just in such a rush, but we did a better job executing in the second half versus their man.”

While the UMass offense stagnated, its defense continued to make life difficult for the Colonials. George Washington shot 33 percent from the floor in the first half and just 27.6 percent over the final 20 minutes while never seeming to find any type of flow. When UMass scored just five points after its hot start, the Colonials scored only 18 points, including an 8-0 run that took more than six minutes to complete.

Yet once again, the Minutemen couldn’t find a stop at crucial moments in overtime. After George Washington won the opening tipoff, the Minutemen forced the Colonials deep into the shot clock before Terry Nolan Jr. wriggled his way open for a 3-pointer. Similarly after battling back and erasing a five-point deficit with 39 seconds left, UMass allowed Nolan to get to the rim and put the Colonials ahead again.

“Defensively, there were times we missed some coverages, but for the most part we were pretty good,” McCall said. “There were some stops we needed to get. We screwed up a pick-and-roll coverage and Terry Nolan buries a 3. They made some difficult shots down the stretch, give them credit.”

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