UMass men’s basketball falls to Harvard in overtime


Staff Writer

Published: 11-18-2023 12:10 PM

Modified: 11-18-2023 12:10 PM

AMHERST – Harvard freshman guard Malik Mack came into Friday night’s contest with UMass averaging 18.3 points per game through the Crimson’s first three games.

Nobody had an answer for him in those contests, and the Minutemen didn’t have one either. Mack dropped a career-high 32 points, including a clutch floater late in regulation to tie the game, to lead Harvard to a 78-75 overtime win over UMass.

A season ago, it was UMass edging Harvard by three points, but this year it was on the other side of a thriller.

“He made some really, really hard shots,” Minutemen head coach Frank Martin said. “He got to the line nine times. He’s a good player. We tried to guard him. Maybe we should’ve trapped him. But when you got a team with so many first year guys, there’s only so many things you’re prepared for this early in the year. Maybe we should’ve trapped him coming off those hand-offs a little bit just to discourage him from being so aggressive.”

Freshman Jaylen Curry had a chance to tie it in the final seconds for the Minutemen, but his three-point attempt hit the backboard and rimmed out. The look was a forced attempt from Curry, but he had no choice because UMass didn’t get anything going on the possession. The ball was held for nearly all of the 20-plus seconds it had it.

The play that Martin had called from the sideline – he had no timeouts to use to organize the team – was abandoned according to senior forward Matt Cross.

“Coach called up a play, and we just overall as a team didn’t execute,” Cross said. “I don’t know what happened, we were just brain dead. There’s nothing Jaylen could do. Guys didn’t know what to do. The play broke down, there’s only so many seconds on the clock. He has to get a three up. We gotta live with that.”

While Harvard is a quality opponent and sits at 4-0 after the win, the loss was a devastating one for the Minutemen (2-1). UMass shot poorly in every phase of the game, especially the free throw line. The Minutemen were 10-for-25 from the stripe. In tight games down the stretch, the old cliche rings true that free throws win or lose ball games.

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And on Friday, it cost them.

“You lose in overtime and you go 10-for-25 from the foul line – you can’t [do that],” Martin said. “The free throws were created by execution offensively and unbelievable effort to rebound the basketball. You can’t keep having empty possessions. I think we were 0-for-5 to start the second half. So when they make their push and they make their threes, if we had made free throws early in the second half, now coming into the last media [timeout], we’re up five rather than up two or whatever it was. We made some defensive mistakes… we still would’ve survived if we made free throws.”

They also shot 37 percent from the field (29-for-78) and 25 percent from behind the arc (7-for-28) in the loss.

The good news for UMass was that Matt Cross looked like the Matt Cross who was    voted to the Atlantic 10 Preseason All-Co nference Third Team. The senior forward was all over the floor – diving for loose balls, hustling for rebounds, and stepping up offensively when the team needed him to. When the best player on a team is leaving it all on the floor, it sets a good example for the rest of the group to follow suit. Cross finished with 16 points and 16 rebounds, nine of them coming on the offensive end.

“That’s why our team has a chance; when your best player is so committed to the way we’re trying to build this program, that’s why our team has a chance,” Martin said. “He’s a hoss, man. He’s in a much better space as a basketball player right now to deal with that kind (physical) game.”

The Minutemen continued their positive theme of taking care of the basketball on Friday night. UMass surrendered a season-high 12 turnovers, which isn’t an unbearably high number – and only five of those came over the final 25 minutes. Guards Rahsool Diggins and Keon Thompson combined for only two turnovers.

With the size, physicality, and athleticism of Harvard, Friday was a game that the Diggins and Thompson of a year ago would have potentially folded in. Instead, they rose to the occasion and played under control for a UMass offense that desperately needed it.

“Missing shots is not a mistake,” Martin said. “Those two guys and Matt, there’s a reason our team plays the way it does right now. The commitment to everything we do off the court and on the court is a direct derivative of those three guys.”

Eight different players recorded at least one field goal for UMass, and seven of them scored at least five points in a true team effort. The 75 total points were a season low, however, and the Minutemen struggled to create open looks. The ball stuck a lot on offense, it wasn’t just on the final possession. 

Josh Cohen and Rahsool Diggins added 13 points apiece for UMass.

Defensive rebounding, the Minutemen’s Achilles heel in the early stages of the year, was a problem yet again. Harvard grabbed 11 offensive boards, which led to eight second-chance points.

UMass returns to the hardwood next Wednesday, Nov. 22, to battle Central Connecticut State at 2 p.m. looking to bounce back from Friday’s heartbreaking loss.