Despite Atlantic 10 quarterfinal loss, UMass shooting to win NCAA tourney

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—Barring an egregious gaffe by the selection committee, UMass’ next game will be in the NCAA tournament.

Derek Kellogg knows that, even after his Minutemen fell to George Washington, 85-77, in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals on Friday night, and the conference’s depth is to thank.

“Times past, you lose here and you go home,” Kellogg said.

But UMass should buck that trend this year, and in doing so would return to the Big Dance for the first time since 1998.

“I feel tremendously confident about it,” Chaz Williams said about the possibility of hearing UMass’ name called on Selection Sunday. “We played some tough teams this year. We beat some great teams, and now it’s all about passing the eye test.”

The Minutemen have lost seven of their last 15 games, but they posted a 13-6 record against RPI top 100 teams and lost just once to an RPI sub-150 team. They’ve beaten NCAA tournament locks New Mexico and Providence and hopeful bubble teams Nebraska and BYU.

Photo: Joel Auerbach | Getty Images North America
Photo: Joel Auerbach | Getty Images North America

Even with a worthy resume, Kellogg set the goal of winning the Atlantic 10 tournament to secure the league’s automatic bid. In that regard, the Minutemen fell short.

“I thought our whole staff, myself included, we were a little, probably, too emotional because I wanted to win the tournament,” Kellogg said. “I wanted to play well. I wanted to get our guys prepared for the next step. I think our staff and even the players maybe were a little more tense than normal.”

And that tension led to their demise on Friday. The Minutemen failed to fully capitalize on George Washington’s 19 turnovers. They allowed a critical 5-0 spurt in the final seconds of the first half, the last two points credited to Isaiah Armwood who deposited a stolen inbounds pass for a layup. When they finally found their offensive rhythm just past the midway point of the second half, the Colonials had an answer.

Like their namesake, UMass saw firsthand how much can transpire in one minute.

The Minutemen fired and hit on shot after shot during a crucial three-minute stretch to trim a 16-point deficit to eight with 5:45 remaining, but George Washington scored eight points in 62 seconds to send UMass reeling.

After Williams misfired a 3-pointer that would have closed the gap to five, Nemanja Mikic drew contact on a trey of his own. Kellogg threw a mini-tantrum from the bench, visibly incensed by the whistle, and Mikic buried each foul shot.

The Colonials would score on each of their next two possessions to regain a commanding 16-point advantage, 71-55, with 4:43 remaining.

Because they couldn’t avoid lapses in execution, the Minutemen can only wait for Selection Sunday in anticipation. But they will more than likely hear their name called, and they won’t settle for a mere appearance.

“I explained to them in a weird way that UMass hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in 15 years, which to me is like, ‘Come on, we’re UMass. We should be there,’” Kellog said. “So let’s not go in there like that’s good enough, that everybody’s excited that we’re there. I want to go in there and try to win.”

Author: Ari Kramer

Ari Kramer is a senior at SUNY Binghamton. At Binghamton, he serves as Sports Editor for Pipe Dream, the school's student newspaper.

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