A10 tournament: Saint Louis thwarts UMass basketball comeback in quarterfinals

  • UMass center Tre Mitchell scored 30 points for the Minutemen in am 86-72 loss to Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10 Championship quarterfinals Friday at the Robins Center in Richmond, Va.   BRIAN MCWALTERS/ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE

  • UMass freshman forward Ronnie DeGray III finished with six points and struggled with foul trouble against Saint Louis on Friday at the Robbins Center in Richmond, Va. The Minutemen lost 86-72 in the Atlantic 10 tournament quarterfinals. BRIAN MCWALTERS/ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE

Staff Writer
Published: 3/5/2021 5:53:16 PM

Sisyphus may as well have worn black and maroon.

Like the Greek king cursed to roll a rock up a hill for eternity, the fifth-seeded UMass men’s basketball team trailed No. 4 Saint Louis for the entirety of their Atlantic 10 Championship quarterfinal and could never finish a run to complete the comeback.

The Billikens prevailed 86-72 on Friday at the Robins Center in Richmond, Va., to reach Saturday’s semifinals against top-seeded Saint Bonaventure.

Saint Louis jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first 1 minute, 47 seconds and built a double-digit lead in just 3:48.

“We were a little slow, almost still sleeping. We came out the gate (Thursday) with a mentality and a focus,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “They woke up today like we woke up (Thursday). We were almost a little shell shocked.”

The Minutemen blew away Saint Joseph’s in the second round with an early 3-point barrage but couldn’t muster the same accuracy against the Billikens. They shot 2-of-11 from beyond the arc in the first half and didn’t make a triple for the first 13:52. That shot, from senior captain Carl Pierre, cut the Billikens’ lead to 13. It reached as high as 17 before UMass reined Saint Louis in.

Pierre’s 3 started an 8-2 run that brought the Minutemen within 10, their first attempt to roll the rock up the hill. Saint Louis responded with two free throws and a 4-0 run.

The Billikens always responded when UMass threatened their advantage. Tre Mitchell converted a hook shot through contact with 2:58 to halftime and clapped all the way to the free throw line, trying to spark his teammates. The sophomore center sank the free throw to bring the Minutemen within seven.

Saint Louis ripped off an 8-0 run to get the lead back to 15 before halftime. The Billikens led by 13 at the break.

UMass (8-7) pulled within single digits twice in the second half. Mitchell sank a 3 with 9:30 left to make it 65-56. He finished with 30 points, the third time he cracked 30 this season and fifth time in his career. That tied Clarence Hill and Billy Tindall for third all-time at UMass. He made 10-of-16 shots and all eight free throws, adding six rebounds, three steals and a block.

“It was win or go home. I had to leave everything out on the floor,” Mitchell said. “I had to do what I could.”

Saint Louis’ Javonte Perkins, who scored 25 points, sank two free throws on the next possession to push the lead back to 11.

Pierre responded with a 3 that made it 67-59 Billikens with 8:39 left. The Minutemen wouldn’t get any closer. Perkins, an 86-percent free throw shooter, missed two from the line after a Cairo McCrory foul on the next possession. Then Fred Thatch Jr. missed a putback after an offensive rebound.

Mitchell fired a 3 just seven seconds later that could have cut the deficit to two possessions, but it rimmed out. The Minutemen doubled Saint Louis big Hasahn French, and he kicked the ball out to Billikens point guard Yuri Collins, who splashed his second 3 of the game for an 11-point lead.

Saint Louis scored seven points in a row and held UMass at arm’s length for the rest of the game.

“We were offensive rebounding really well. That extended some possessions, and we got to the free throw line a lot,” Saint Louis coach Travis Ford said. “We didn’t have an enormous amount of scoring droughts in the second half.”

The Billikens only outscored the Minutemen by one in the second half, but Mitchell provided most of their firepower. He had 18 points in the second half. No other Minuteman reached double figures until Javohn Garcia (11 points) sank a layup with 33 seconds remaining.

While UMass generated enough offense to compete, the defense didn’t create enough stops for those buckets to pull the Minutemen closer. The Billikens shot 49.2 percent form the field and had three double-figure scorers: Perkins, Jordan Goodwin (18 points) and Collins (17).

“Give Saint Louis credit, they were a top-25 team at one point for a reason,” McCall said. “I don’t see how they’re not an NCAA tournament team.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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