UMass can’t close out George Mason in double-overtime loss

  • UMass senior guard Carl Pierre, right, drives to the basket defended by Josh Oduro (13) and AJ Wilson, Wednesday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/30/2020 10:05:23 PM
Modified: 12/30/2020 10:05:11 PM

Three times a UMass men’s basketball player stood at the free-throw line with a chance to put George Mason away Wednesday.

Three times he went 1-for-2, and the Patriots executed in the final moments to escape the Mullins Center with a 93-92 victory in double overtime.

Tre Mitchell was the latest. He was fouled with 14 seconds left in the second overtime after Jamal Hartwell II swished his latest clutch 3-pointer to give the Patriots the lead for the first time in the period. Mitchell made his first to tie it at 92, but couldn’t convert the second. He finished with 23 points despite an abysmally slow start.

“That’s a long game. Guys played a lot of minutes,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “At some point fatigue becomes a factor.”

George Mason called timeout with seven seconds remaining. Jordan Miller received the inbounds pass and made sure he decided the game. He missed the potential game-winning jumper, but grabbed his own rebound. UMass freshman Cairo McCrory fouled him on his second attempt with 1.8 seconds remaining.

Miller sank the first free throw then purposefully missed the second so UMass had barely a prayer. George Mason shot 61.1 percent from the free-throw line in the game, but the Patriots sank the ones they needed.

UMass began the second overtime with a 6-0 run thanks to old-fashioned three-point plays by Mitchell and Noah Fernandes.

But, as they did all game, the Patriots refused to go away because Hartwell kept making 3s. He put George Mason up 92-91 with 26 seconds to go and scored 19 in the game. He also resuscitated George Mason late in the first OT with a game-tying triple.

Hartwell cut the Minutemen’s lead to one with another 3 with 1:07 left. He made four 3s and shot 80 percent from beyond the arc.

“We had many, many opportunities there. I give our players credit, we showed some resiliency at times,” McCall said. “There’s different possessions we’d like to get a stop and we didn’t come up with those stops.”

UMass played most of the game without starting guard Javohn Garcia, who was limited to 12 minutes because of foul trouble.

Little separated the teams in the first extra frame. They largely exchanged jabs until Mitchell sank his first 3-pointer 1:07 into overtime to give UMass a 69-64 advantage. Then Carl Pierre made another two free throws for a seven-point lead 18 seconds later.

George Mason whittled the advantage. Tyler Kolek embarked on a personal 6-1 run to bring the Patriots within two with 2:14 left. Bahaïde Haïdara tied it at 74 with 1:35 remaining.

With UMass needing to burn time, Ronnie Degray III went for points instead and launched a full-court pass to T.J. Weeks Jr. He couldn’t corral it in bounds with 1:04 to go up five, and the decision hurt. Hartwell raced down for a layup to cut the lead to one possession.

“That’s an option if he’s open,” McCall said. “What we’re really trying to do is get some movement and drag some of their defenders out of there.”

Hartwell gave the Patriots the late lead with a 3 with 51 seconds remaining after a Weeks layup

Weeks converted an and-1 for a 79-77 edge with 37 seconds remaining.

The Minutemen got their one stop, but Fernandes only sank one free throw to leave the door open. Hartwell tied the game at 80 with another 3 with eight seconds to go. Then Fernandes missed a layup at the buzzer to send the game to the second OT.

UMass led 62-59 with 28 seconds left in regulation after a Fernandes free throw. He also swished a clutch jumper from the free-throw line eight seconds earlier for a four-point lead.

The Patriots pulled within a possession with an uncontested Haïdara layup with 30 seconds remaining. George Mason fouled Fernandes, and he went 1-for-2.

The Minutemen chose not to foul after the inbound up three and continued that strategy after George Mason called timeout with 14 seconds remaining.

“There’s so much time there still. We thought about it, we talked about it in the timeout as a staff,” McCall said. “Fourteen seconds is a lifetime in a game.”

The Patriots worked the ball to Kolek on the right wing. He rose for a 3 with Weeks in his face and a hand up. The whistle blew to send Kolek to the line with a chance to tie it with perfection.

“I thought T.J. did a great job. He fought over a screen and didn’t let Kolek get a good look. He walled up,” Pierre said. “They bailed (Kolek) out with the foul.”

Kolek rattled in the first followed by two swishes.

UMass called timeout coming up the floor. Mitchell couldn’t get a shot off before the buzzer sent the game to overtime.

Pierre opened the second half on fire. He made his first three shots and scored UMass’ first eight points. The senior captain finished with 19 points.

George Mason broke out a zone in the second half, which stymied the Minutemen. UMass shot 38.5 percent from the field in the second half, but made 5 of 11 3-pointers. UMass went more than five minutes without a point. Weeks made a pullup jumper after a drive with 9:58 left then made two free throws with 4:54 remaining. Those broke a 46-46 tie and sparked an 11-2 run.

Weeks finally made his first triple after five misses with 3:48 left to go up 54-49. Pierre followed with what looked like a dagger two minutes later, swishing a 3 to go up 58-51. Javohn Garcia pushed the lead to eight with a free throw with 1:20 left.

A Kolek 3 and Jordan Miller layup reduced the deficit to one possession. Miller made a free throw with 1:03 left to cut it to two. Then Fernandes’ miss left the door open for Kolek at the stripe.

Turnovers by the Patriots and timely 3-point shooting kept UMass in the first half. George Mason gave the ball away 12 times in the first 20 minutes, while the Minutemen only had four steals.

George Mason built a 20-16 lead with 5:53 left, but it didn’t last long. Fernandes tied the game at 21 with a 3 a minute and a half later. The Minutemen splashed four 3s in the first half.

SCHEDULE UPDATES — The Minutemen will no longer travel to Saint Louis on Saturday after the Billikens paused team activities following positive COVID-19 results in their program. The game is postponed for the moment.

The UMass women’s basketball schedule also shifted. UMass won’t play Saint Joseph’s on Friday after the Hawks entered quarantine following a positive COVID case. UMass will now play Sunday at La Salle (2 p.m., ESPN+). The Minutewomen will then play Rhode Island on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Amherst.

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