Fernandes (5).JPG

Noah Fernandes scored a team-high 16 points for UMass, but the Minutemen were found lacking in a regular-season finale loss to Saint Louis.

The opposite of high hope is great disappointment. 

The University of Massachusetts men's basketball team had a glorious opportunity to claim a double-bye in this week's Atlantic 10 Conference postseason tournament. The Minutemen picked the wrong night to put up one of their least-impressive efforts of the season.

Host Saint Louis put five players into double figures, UMass never led, and the Minutemen dropped a 78-57 decision to the Billikens on Monday night.

Had UMass won, it would have been the third seed in the A-10 Tournament, which begins Tuesday in Richmond, Va., and would not have to play in the second round. Instead, the Minutemen are the fifth seed. While both UMass and Saint Louis finished with 6-4 conference records, the Billikens get the No. 4 seed by virtue of the win, and by Saint Joseph's upsetting Richmond in their regular-season finale.

"We did not play well. We did not play well enough to beat a talented team like Saint Louis. That's the bottom line," said UMass coach Matt McCall, sounding somewhat downcast. "It's an older team, more physical, and to beat a team like that on the road, offensively you have to be clicking on all levels. Obviously we were not, and our numbers proved that. Defensively, the same thing."

With the loss, UMass will await the winner of Wednesday's opening-round game between 12th-seeded La Salle and No. 13 Saint Joseph on Thursday at 1 p.m., inside the University of Richmond's Robins Center. Should UMass win that game, a rematch with Saint Louis would be on tap.

"We've got to get a lot better here over these next couple of days," McCall said, "and do whatever we can to try to make a run at this thing."

The Minutemen won't make a run at anything without Tre Mitchell firing on all cylinders.

Mitchell was held to 10 points on 2-for-7 shooting, and 1 for 3 from outside the 3-point arc. He did pull down five rebounds, but none of them were offensive so he had no put-back hoops. He had four assists but three turnovers.

"Teams are throwing two guys at him every time when he gets the ball down there. If they're not throwing two guys at him, they're shrinking the floor completely around him and obviously making it hard for him to operate," McCall said. "I thought he threw some great passes out of double-teams. When that happens, we have to look, are we getting wide-open, good shots. Do we need to put more pressure at the basket in those situations and drive closeouts.

"He's that good of a player where he draws that much attention."

Speaking on the CBS Sports Network postgame show, Saint Louis coach Travis Ford, said that was the game plan.

"We wanted [Mitchell] to feel as many hands around him as we could," Ford said. "He got in a little foul trouble [in the first half]. I thought we did a good job, basically, of mixing it up a little bit."

Of course, Ford was the UMass coach the last time the Minutemen had a No. 3 seed, back in 2008.

In all of its losses, UMass (7-6) has been plagued by dry spells. One midway through the first half caused the Minutemen to start chasing points, and they just couldn't catch up.

Mark Gasperini scored on a baby hook shot with 12 minutes, 2 seconds left, tying the game at 11-11. Over the next three minutes, UMass went 0 for 3 from the floor, with three turnovers. The Billikens scored seven unanswered points to take an 18-11 lead, and never trailed again.

It was 42-31 at halftime. Twice in the second half, UMass had cut into the Saint Louis lead, and when Noah Fernandes — who had a team-high 16 points, hit a 3-pointer from nearby the Gateway Arch, UMass was down by only 52-43.

Get a stop or get a hoop gets a team closer. This time, UMass did neither. 

The Minutemen had two turnovers that led to five points and then missed three 3-point attempts. It was an 11-0 run as Saint Louis was 5 for 5 from the floor. And when Hasahn French spun around Mitchell in the low block to score, it was 63-43. At that point, the young Minutemen seemed a little lost on the court.

"That stretch where it started to slip away when we missed three straight 3's, I thought a couple of them were actually really, really good looks off of extra passes and they just didn't go down," McCall said. "In those types of situations, when that happens and you don't make those, it kind of deflates you. You've got to try to refocus and get stops on the other end.

"We weren't able to respond from there."

Fernandes, coming off a 3-point performance against Richmond, was 6 of 11 from the floor and 4 for 8 from outside the arc. Carl Pierre had 12 points and Mitchell 10. Pierre had 10 in the first half.

Jordan Goodwin had a stellar night for the Billikens, nearly recording a triple-double. He had 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. Javonte Perkins led the five double-figure scorers for Saint Louis with 16.

———

MASSACHUSETTS (57)

Garcia 3-7 0-0 6, Fernandes 6-11 0-0 16, Pierre 5-11 0-0 12, DeGray III 0-2 0-0 0, T. Mitchell 2-7-5-6 10, K. Mitchell 0-0 0-0 0, Dominguez 0-0 0-0 0, McCrory 0-1 0-0 0, Gasperini 3-4 0-0 6, Weeks 2-7 2-4 7. Totals 21-50 7-10 57.

SAINT LOUIS (78)

Goodwin 3-14 6-8 13, Perkins 6-13 3-3 16, Hightower 0-0 0-0 0, French 6-12 0-0 12, Bell Jr. 1-1 0-0 2, Collins 1-3 0-0 2, Russell 0-0 0-0 0, Linssen 3-6 0-0 6, Jacobs 2-2 0-0 4, Thatch Jr. 4-5 3-4 13, Hargrove Jr. 4-4 0-0 10, Jimerson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-60 12-15 78.

Halftime — Saint Louis 42-31. 3-point baskets — UMass 8-23 (Garcia 0-4, Fernandes 4-8, Pierre 2-5, 

Rebounds — UMass 23 (T. Mitchell 5, Gasperini 4). Saint Louis 36 (Goodwin 11, French 5). Assists — UMass 14 (T. Mitchell 4, McCrory 3). Saint Louis 21 (Goodwin 8, Collins 4). Turnovers — UMass 18 (Fernandes 4, T. Mitchell 3). Saint Louis 14 (Goodwin 3, French 3). Fouls — UMass 14, Saint Louis 13.

Howard Herman can be reached at  hherman@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6253. On Twitter: @howardherman

Sportswriter-Columnist

Howard Herman is a sports columnist at The Berkshire Eagle. The dean of full-time sportswriters in Western Mass., he has been with the Eagle since 1988, and is a member of the New England Baseball and Basketball Hall of Fame.