Slow start sinks UMass basketball in home loss to UMass Lowell that ends winning streak

  • UMass guard RJ Luis pulls up for a jump shot in the first half against UMass Lowell on Thursday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI / UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass forward Isaac Kante lofts up a hook shot in the first half against UMass Lowell on Thursday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI / UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass’ Dyondre Dominguez, Tafara Gapare and Wildens Leveque battle for a rebound in the first half against UMass Lowell on Thursday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI / UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass guard RJ Luis hangs for a layup in the first half against UMass Lowell on Thursday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI / UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass guard Rahsool Diggins drives to the basket in the first half against UMass Lowell on Thursday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/8/2022 9:51:23 PM
Modified: 12/8/2022 10:28:34 PM

AMHERST – Several methodical second half comebacks never culminated in a lead, as the UMass men’s basketball team fell 85-80 against UMass Lowell on Thursday at the Mullins Center.

The Minutemen almost erased a double-digit deficit but couldn’t push over the final hump, losing for the first time in six games.

“We let one slip by us. I feel like we should have came out with more energy, more effort, and we should have beat them,” UMass guard T.J. Weeks Jr. said. “But we let them get to a big lead, and then we had to play a comeback game.”

Matt Cross led UMass with 19 points and grabbed three rebounds. Freshman R.J. Luis added 14 points, while classmate Keon Thompson added 11. Dyondre Dominguez scored 10.

Weeks posted eight rebounds to pace the Minutemen. Rahsool Diggins distributed six assists.

After shaving Lowell’s lead to eight near the end of the first half, the Minutemen allowed a 7-0 run to open the second half, and the River Hawks built their biggest lead of the game at 45-30.

Lowell shot 56.4 percent from the field, 69.23 percent in the second half. The River Hawks made 11-of-21 3s.

“Guarding the ball requires incredible discipline, incredible toughness and incredible enthusiasm, and you’ve got to do it every day, not just when you're in a good mood,” UMass coach Frank Martin said. “And when you don't do it every day, you create bad habits, and when you have bad habits, you get exposed the way we did.”

Cross cut it back to single digits with 11 points in the first 6:12 of the second half, hitting a 3 to make it 51-43 with 13:48 on the clock. The Louisville transfer hit all three field goals and four free throws.

“Sometimes when I get tired, I hang around the arc too much, not rebounding, not being aggressive,” Cross said. “The biggest thing I can do to help this team is being aggressive. When I'm not in the rhythm of the game, just get down low and bang around and help my team with all of the little things. I think it will come.”

The River Hawks’ advantage hovered between eight and 11 until the River Hawks committed a flagrant foul on Thompson as he ran back on defense and snatched the ball away from Max Brooks. Thompson made both free throws to pull UMass to 62-54 with 9:46 left. 

“He’s gonna be really good, and I think he's really good for us now,” Cross said. “He’s already built like a senior, and he’s a freshman. He has no problem with the physicality and being aggressive right away.”

The Minutemen ratcheted up their press in the second half and caused havoc. Dominguez hit a 3 to cut the deficit to 64-57 at 8:39 after a 10-second violation, and Weeks cut it to four with a reverse three-point play off a steal, making the first free throw then grabbing his own rebound for a layup to get to 64-60.

“It sped them up, we’re trying to force turnovers, get the ball out of the guards’ hands,” Weeks said. “You’ve got to keep attacking them, keep forcing them to think faster, that's gonna mess them up even more.”

Lowell’s Everette Hammond, who scored 20 points, responded immediately with a 3 to make it a three-possession game with 8:03 on the clock.

Cross drove and made it a one-possession game at 67-64 with 6:45 left, but the River Hawks had a response again: a Hammond 3 that sparked a 7-0 run. He hit four of them in the game.

Ayinde Hikim led Lowell  with 23 points, seven assists and six rebounds in 38 minutes.

UMass kept chipping. Thompson surged to the basket on a fast break, making the layup through contact and hitting the free throw to bring UMass to 76-75, as close as it’d been since the opening moments.

Weeks was called for a charge as he sank a layup that would have given the Minutemen their first lead. Thompson also made it 78-77 with a short floater, but Yuri Covington answered with another Lowell 3 that stretched the lead to 81-77 with 1:33 left, and the visitors held on from there.

“They might hit a couple shots, but we can't just come head down. We've got to come back, keep fighting,” Weeks said. “Eventually we're gonna get a punch that's gonna land and then we're gonna take the lead, so we can't just have our heads down.”

Lowell (10-1) surged to a 17-4 lead in the game’s first 7:14 keyed by an 11-0 run. The River Hawks advantage ballooned as high as 14 before the Minutemen settled and chipped away.

Cross pulled UMass’ deficit back to single digits 24-15 with two free throws with 7:11 to halftime.

Tafara Gapare woke up a listless crowd slamming home a missed layup for a putback dunk with 3:58 to halftime.

Diggins dragged UMass closer with back-to-back 3s in the final 90 seconds, then he took a charge to give the Minutemen a chance at making it a two-possession game with 45.2 seconds remaining in the first half. He missed a floater, and Gapare couldn’t finish a follow layup. It was a 38-30 deficit at halftime.

UMass (7-2) shot 30 percent in the first half and turned the ball over 12 times but went into the break trailing by just eight.

Next up for the Minutemen is a game against Hofstra on Sunday night at 7 p.m. at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

For a full version of the story with quotes, visit gazettenet.com/sports

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