UMass falls to St. John's
UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Two games, 24 hours, two losses.
When the University of Massachusetts basketball team boarded its bus for the ride home from Mohegan Sun on Sunday, coach Matt McCall and his players had to feel a little stung by the 78-63 loss it took in the Air Force Reserve Tip-Off Classic's Naismith Bracket consolation game against St. John's.
The third year coach was confident, however, that in the long run this lost weekend in Connecticut will help his team.
"There's no question. It's going to help us on Friday, it's going to help us against South Carolina," McCall said. "It's going to help us with all the teams that are on our schedule."
The Minutemen (5-2) rallied from eight points down in the first half to take a one-point halftime lead. They led by as many as eight in the second half before St. John's (5-2) stormed back and took the lead for keeps on a 3-point shot by reserve David Caraher.
"I thought we were in a rhythm there, especially in the second half," McCall said. "They made an adjustment, went zone, and we didn't respond the right way. Our lack of offense completely bled into what we were doing on the defensive end of the floor."
The Minutemen were led by T.J. Weeks, who had 19 points, but only two in the second half. Tre Mitchell had a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds, the first of his still short college basketball career. He did have four assists, but also had eight turnovers.
In fact, the 6-foot-9 freshman center went 15 minutes into the first half before scoring his first points. He closed out the half with seven in the last five minutes, but after making a three-point play with 10:54 left, Mitchell did not score again.
"They were triple-teaming me," said Mitchell. "I think it's pretty blunt. Everybody saw it. I was getting triple-teamed from the jump."
It was an extension of what Virginia did to Mitchell in the second half of Saturday's 58-46 win over the Minutemen. Mitchell had 10 points in the first half of Saturday's game, and finished up with 10 against the Cavaliers.
"It was a good bounce-back for our basketball team after a tough loss against Arizona State, a very good basketball team," St. John's first-year coach Mike Anderson said. "I felt our guys didn't have the 'hangover effect.' We came out defensively in the first half and got after it. I believe if you're going to be a good basketball team, you have to play some of your best basketball in the second half."
That's exactly what the Red Storm did.
UMass scored the first seven points in the second half. When Mitchell dunked with 17:22 left, the Minutemen found themselves up 45-37 at the under 16-minute media time out. That was the high-water mark in the second half.
The Red Storm started chipping away, using a 11-2 run to trim the UMass lead to three points. The teams traded hoops, and when Mitchell converted on his 3-point play, it was 53-48 with 10:54 to go.
While the aforementioned Mitchell did not score again, the Minutemen went into a 3-minute cold spell. They went 0-4 with three turnovers, while St. John's scored 12 unanswered points. Not even a time out by McCall could stop the run. When the dust settled, St. John's had turned a five-point deficit into a 61-53 lead. The biggest hoop in that run came when Mitchell turned the ball over. Marcellus Earlington got the steal and found Caraher in transition for a trey. St. John's put the exclamation point on the game when L.J. Figueroa missed a jumper, and Roberts came flying in from the weak side to jam the ball home.
"I thought our youth showed at times today, in the sense of just not responding the right way. In certain situations, you'd like to have a time out, and we didn't have any to stop the runs, stop the bleeding," McCall said. "We burned too many in the first half."
Keon Clergeot chipped in with 11 points for the Minutemen.
Caraher came off the bench to score a team-best 17 for St. John's. Josh Roberts had 16 points and eight rebounds, while Julian Champagnie had 12 points and seven rebounds.
The Minutemen don't play again until Friday afternoon at Rutgers. They won't return to the friendly confines of the Mullins Center until Dec. 4 against South Carolina.
McCall said that he hopes that what happened in Connecticut — both good and bad — is not forgotten.
"This will really, really prepare us for when we get into the Atlantic 10," McCall said. "I think this team, over these two days, have showed what they're capable of. There's a lot of room to grow. That's the part, as a coach, that I'm excited about. I think we've shown signs.
"I don't think we've played great yet. I think that our best basketball is in front of us."
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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