JERREY ROBERTS Maxie Esho, left, of the University of Massachusetts, drives to the basket against George Mason defenders Jalen Jenkins, center, and Bryon Allen Wednesday at the Mullins Center.
AMHERST — On Jan. 15, George Mason nearly upset the University of Massachusetts, but the Patriots struggled enough late to open the door for the Minutemen to produce a memorable come-from-behind win.
There was no magic for UMass this time. After building a big lead, Mason made shots instead of mistakes late Wednesday to stun the Minutemen, 91-80, at the Mullins Center.
“We lost a home game that we should have won and should have played a little better and a little more energized. I didn’t think we gave it one of our better efforts to say the least,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “We got beat. We got beat tonight. That’s pretty much it.”
When Chaz Williams struggles to score, the Minutemen usually do as well. The star point guard shot 3 for 15 from the field, including 1 for 8 from 3-point range. He finished with eight points and six assists (one turnover) in 31 minutes and spent much of the final minutes on the bench with an undisclosed injury, according to Kellogg. The shooting woes were far from his alone. UMass missed 17 layups, 18-of-25 3-pointers and 11-of-30 free throws.
“Free-throw shooting, 3-point shooting has been an Achilles’ heel for us when we’ve lost games and their guards did a great job of controlling the game,” Kellogg said. “Quite a few of (the missed 3s) were wide open. But when we drove the ball to the rim better things happened. But the problem was, we didn’t make free throws. You combine missing 1-footers, missing 3s and missing free throws with not coming up with enough 50-50 balls, that’s a recipe we’ve had when we’ve lost games this year.”
The loss was UMass’ first at home this season.
The Minutemen trailed for most of the first half, but looked very much in the game until the Patriots compiled a 13-2 run that gave them a 37-25 lead with 2:43 left in the first half. The sequence seemed to put UMass on the ropes for the rest of the game. With his regulars faltering, Kellogg inserted freshmen Demetrius Dyson and Seth Berger into the lineup shortly before intermission in hopes of shaking things up, but it didn’t help as GMU led 42-32 at the break.
“I was looking for anyone to come with some energy.” Kellogg said. “I was trying to send a message.”
Cady Lalanne blocked Sherrod Wright’s shot to open the second half which briefly brought some missing energy into the Mullins Center. But at the other end, Erik Copes blocked Williams’ layup and then proceeded to score the first six points of the half himself to stretch GMU’s edge to 48-32 with 18 minutes left.
On numerous occasions in the second half, it looked like UMass might add another come-from-behind win to its growing collection. But seemingly every time there was a chance to get within single-digits, the Minutemen turned the ball over, miss a free throw or back-rimmed one of their 18 missed 3-pointers.
“It’s tough,” Sampson Carter said. “When you’re down like that you know you need every bucket and every play.”
With Williams on the bench, Trey Davis (20 points, six assists, three steals) and Carter (16 points, five rebounds) tried to carry the Minutemen. Using pressure to force turnovers and rushed shots, UMass got within seven at 80-73 with 1:46 left, but without effective 3-point shooting, it couldn’t cut the deficit in large chunks. The Patriots made 9-of-11 free throws after that to seal their win.
UMass (19-5, 6-4 A-10) heads south to face George Washington, Saturday at 2 p.m.
Lalanne finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots, but Kellogg thought he was outplayed by Copes, who had 12 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks for the Patriots (9-15, 2-8 A-10).
Wright had a game-high 22 points for Mason, while Bryon Allen added 19.
“They counter-punched a lot of the things we did tonight,” Kellogg said. “They played a great game.”