UMass falls in NCAA tourney to Tennessee, 86-67

Last modified: Saturday, May 03, 2014
RALEIGH, N.C. — After a long wait to get back to the NCAA tournament, the University of Massachusetts was competitive for just a short time.

The No. 6-seeded Minutemen couldn’t counter No. 11 Tennessee’s size and smothering defense. They fell behind early and never recovered en route to a 86-67 loss at PNC Arena.

“It was a terrific season for these guys. Today, we ran into a Tennessee team that played very physical and tough around the rim and took us out of a lot of things we try to do,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “Offensively, especially, I thought we struggled mightily in the first half, turned the ball over 10 times. It led to easy baskets. Then we were playing catch-up from there on out. I thought our guys fought in the second half, cut it to 10. A few bounce plays didn’t go our way. We couldn’t get over the hump. Hats off to Tennessee. They outplayed us today.”

All the reasons UMass was a popular pick to be upset in its first NCAA tournament game were on display throughout. Kellogg changed his starting lineup for the first time this season replacing Raphiael Putney with Maxie Esho in hopes of countering the Volunteers’ size advantage. But if it made a difference, it wasn’t enough. Tennessee dominated in the paint and kept the Minutemen from pushing the game to their preferred helter-skelter pace.

It allowed the Volunteers to have their defense set throughout. It seemed like every time a UMass guard tried to get into the lane, there was at least one and often two bigger Volunteers waiting to impede their path.

It led to 13 turnovers, a lot of forced bad shots and eventually UMass’ worst defeat of the season.

The Vols’ win means either a No. 13 or a No. 11 seed is headed for the Sweet Sixteen as Mercer and Tennessee will play Sunday for the right to advance to a Midwest Regional semifinal next week in Indianapolis. UMass finished the season 24-9.

Williams thought the Minutemen dug their hole with early nervousness.

“I think it was mostly jitters than anything. We were so excited that we were too excited, I think. We were just moving too fast, wasn’t in our positions where we needed to be on offense and defense,” Williams said. “So I think that kind of took away from what we wanted to do, because we had a couple of great practices these past couple of days. It felt like we were going to come out great. Once you get under the lights and the crowd starts roaring, you start second guessing.”

The attendance was listed as 16,988, but the atmosphere in PNC Arena was dead in the second game of the session. The disappointed Duke fans left early following the Blue Devils’ 78-71 upset loss to Mercer and the jubilant Bears fans had moved their celebration elsewhere.

Jarnell Stokes, who dominated against UMass last year in Puerto Rico, did it again in Raleigh. He finished with 26 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Vols (23-12). Jordan McRae added 21 points. Chaz Williams had 12 points and five assists in his final game as a Minuteman. Esho also had 12 points to go with six rebounds.

“Coming into this game, my mindset wasn’t to score the ball. I was somewhat worried about their point guard, Chaz Williams, getting into the lane,” Stokes said. “I’m just looking at the stat sheet. We held him under his career averages the entire game. So I wanted to play very good ball screen defense, but it made this a fast break game so I got a lot of points just off of fast breaks and getting to the foul line.”

Tennessee opened the game on an 8-2 run putting UMass on its heels from the outset. The Vols stretched their edge to 38-18 with 2:08 left before intermission. The Minutemen scored four points on two free throws by Esho and a layup by Williams to bring it back to 16, but a McRae 3 made it 41-22 at halftime.

UMass came out fighting in the second half. Led by Derrick Gordon and Sampson Carter, it used a 14-5 run to cut the deficit to 10 with 13:49 but the hole was too deep and Tennessee was too good and pulled away.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage