Saint Louis rips away UMass basketball’s A-10 tournament double bye with dominant 2nd half

  • UMass sophomore Tre Mitchell and the Minutemen couldn't keep up with Saint Louis in a 78-57 loss at Chaifetz arena in St. Louis, Mo., on Monday. BILL BARRETT/SAINT LOUIS ATHLETICS

  • Sophomore guard Noah Fernandes led UMass with 16 points at Chaifetz Arena on Monday. The Minutemen fell 78-57 to Saint Louis on the road. BILL BARRETT/SAINT LOUIS ATHLETIC

Staff Writer
Published: 3/1/2021 9:04:23 PM

UMass’ chance at a double bye in the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball championships evaporated over four scoreless minutes in the second half at Saint Louis on Monday.

Noah Fernandes cut the Billikens’ lead to nine with a fastbreak 3 with 12 minutes, 25 seconds left. It had ballooned to 16 earlier in the second half, but that triple capped a 9-2 run.

Then Saint Louis kept the Minutemen off the scoreboard for 4:23 and scored 13 consecutive points, relegating UMass to the fifth seed in this week’s A-10 tournament after a 78-57 victory.

The Billikens’ lead stretched to as many as 25 in the second half, as UMass shot 27.3 percent from 3 and turned the ball over 10 times.

“That stretch where it started to slip away, we missed three or four straight 3s, I thought some of them were good looks, but they didn’t go down,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “When that happens and you don’t make those it deflates you, and  you’ve got to refocus. We weren’t able to respond from that.”

UMass sophomore center Tre Mitchell checked out of the game with 13:44 remaining after Fernandes sank a jumper to cut the deficit to nine the first time. Saint Louis (13-5, 6-4 A-10) outscored the Minutemen 10-3 over the next 2:33 and extended the advantage to 16 again before Mitchell re-entered the contest.

“He asked for a blow. He was giving it everything he had out there,” McCall said. “When you play that hard, you get tired.”

Foul trouble limited UMass’ star sophomore, who scored 10 points on 2-of-7 shooting, to seven minutes in the first half. He picked up his first with 9:12 until halftime and added the second with 5:48 remaining. It’s the second game in a row Mitchell had to sit for a long stretch of the first half with foul trouble.

He wasn’t the only one. There were 20 fouls called in the first half: 11 on UMass (7-6, 6-4) and nine by Saint Louis. The game finished with 27 fouls total. UMass freshman guard Javohn Garcia went to the bench with 15:57 left until halftime after fouling twice in five seconds. Fellow freshman Cairo McCrory had three fouls in the first half.

Effective 3-point shooting, particularly by UMass senior Carl Pierre, kept the Minutemen in striking distance in the first half. Pierre made two 3s and scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half. His first triple cut UMass’ deficit to 18-14 after the Billikens built a seven-point lead, and his second cut a nine-point lead to six with 2:40 until halftime.

Saint Louis pushed the lead to double digits a minute later when Fred Thatch Jr. stole the ball from UMass freshman forward Dyondre Dominguez and threw down a two-handed dunk.

After a Marten Linssen layup for the Billikens, Fernandes splashed a 3 with 25 seconds left to bring the deficit to single digits again. Saint Louis perfectly executed a pick and roll to Linssen, who dunked with 2 seconds left to send the Billikens to halftime with a double-digit lead.

Fernandes didn’t let up after halftime. He scored 10 of his 16 points in the second frame and added two rebounds and an assist. He ended UMass’ late scoring drought with a second-chance floater and sank a 3 with 3 minutes left.

“He was almost trying to will our team back there playing late in the second half with extreme effort,” McCall said.

Fernandes and Mitchell checked out with 2:28 remaining, along with the rest of the starters.

The Minutemen could have clinched a double-bye for the first time since 2008 with a win and instead will play the winner of No. 12 La Salle and No. 13 Saint Joseph’s at 1 p.m. Thursday at Richmond’s Robbins Center . Saint Louis secured the No. 4 seed and a double bye into the quarterfinals after Saint Joe’s upset Richmond on Monday. 

UMass will travel to Richmond on Tuesday and begin testing protocol to start the A-10 tournament.

“We’ve got to get better over these next couple days and do whatever we can to make a run at this thing,” McCall said. “We’ve got to believe that we can win, that’s it. Have a mindset and mentality that we can win, bottom line.”

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