George Washington forward Patricio Garino (13) tries to free the ball from Massachusetts guard Derrick Gordon (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Smith Center in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. UMass won 67-61. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
WASHINGTON — The University of Massachusetts team that walked off the court Saturday bore little resemblance to the one that collectively hung its head after suffering its worst defeat of the year to George Mason Wednesday.
Despite injuries, foul trouble and an inability to make free throws, the Minutemen gutted out a 67-61 win over George Washington Saturday at the Smith Center and became the first team to win at GW all season. They hugged each other as the game ended and the cheers and celebration from their locker room could be heard throughout the basement of the Smith Center after the win.
“We needed a win, period,” said senior Chaz Williams, who continued to battle a lower-back injury. “The way we lost last game, we didn’t feel like we did enough. We wanted to come out today, execute coach’s game plan and do all the right things. A lot of guys stepped up.”
On Friday, UMass coach Derek Kellogg said how his team bounced back from Wednesday would test its character.
“I’m really proud of this group and the way they came back after a not-so-great game,” Kellogg said after Saturday’s win. “I wanted to see them play well and compete on every possession, and I thought they did that. We’re just happy for the win. We needed a win.”
UMass led 51-41 with 10 minutes, 49 seconds left in the second half. But its defense, which helped it build that lead, was out of sync with so many players trying to stay in the game with foul trouble. Kellogg was forced to go back and forth between Williams, who besides his back injury had four fouls, and Trey Davis, who suffered a right thigh injury that sidelined him for long stretches.
GW recognized an opportunity and attacked, making a 15-4 run to pull ahead 56-55 on Patricio Garino’s layup with 6:11 remaining.
Derrick Gordon answered, scoring through contact to put the Minutemen up 57-56, but missed the free throw with just under six minutes left.
After Isaiah Armwood put back an offensive rebound, Cady Lalanne responded by tipping in a Williams lob to put UMass back ahead 59-58 with 5:00 remaining.
GW had a chance to seize momentum. Maurice Creek, who is usually one of the Atlantic 10’s best from the line, made just one of two free throws to tie the game, but he stripped Williams and fed Garino. But the Colonial sophomore missed the tough-angle layup and Williams grabbed the rebound and hustled the ball up the floor.
Williams found Davis open in the corner. Davis missed the 3-point attempt, but Creek fouled him.
Davis made 2-of-3 free-throw attempts to put UMass ahead 61-59 with 3:30 left. The Minutemen led the rest of the way, as neither team made another field goal and UMass made enough free throws to hold on despite shooting 12-for-26 from the line. GW missed too many to keep pace.
“If you don’t win and you do that from the free-throw line, those are the nights you can’t sleep,” Kellogg said.
GW coach Mike Lonergan might not rest as well.
“I thought the game was lost on the free-throw line,” said Lonergan, whose team shot 13-for-21. “We went to the line three times in a row and went 1-for-2, three times in a row.”
The Minutemen get a chance to rest and heal before hosting VCU at 7 p.m. Friday at the Mullins Center.
“That was a big win for us in a hostile environment against a team that’s an NCAA caliber team,” Kellogg said. “I thought our team fought and scrapped. We didn’t shoot particularly well from the free-throw line, but a lot of other aspects of our game went well. We beat a very good team on the road.”
Sampson Carter led UMass (20-5, 7-4 Atlantic 10) with 20 points, while Gordon added 11. Williams had eight points and six assists in 27 minutes. Garino scored 20 for the Colonials (19-6, 7-4 A-10).