Second-half burst sinks UMass basketball in loss at Davidson

  • UMass guard T.J. Weeks Jr. scored 21 points against Davidson on Tuesday, matching his season high set earlier this year against Harvard, pictured. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/11/2022 9:38:44 PM

A strong start crumbled after halftime for the UMass men’s basketball team in a 77-67 loss at Davidson on Tuesday.

The Minutemen led by double digits in the first half before the Wildcats narrowed the gap and pulled away to start the second half to win their 11th game in a row.

Davidson (13-2, 3-0 Atlantic 10) grabbed hold of the game with a 12-0 run early in the second half. Sam Mennenga threw down an alley-oop dunk, Luke Brajkovic hit a 3 followed by another Mennenga layup, a Brajkovic layup off an offensive rebound following a missed free throw and a 3 by Hyunjung Lee. The Wildcats went 5-of-5 from the field and forced two turnovers, including one off the inbounds to build a 51-39 advantage 3:50 into the second half.

“We’ve got to keep our foot on the gas pedal,” UMass’ T.J Weeks said. “I think that was the game right there.” 

Brajkovic poured in a career-high 25 points on 11-of-13 shooting and added 11 rebounds and three blocks.

Noah Fernandes finally stemmed the onslaught with a jumper that made it 51-41 after Davidson kept the Minutemen off the scoreboard for 2:21.

Foster Loyer gave Davidson its largest lead of the game (13) when he sank all 3 free throws that put the Wildcats ahead 54-41. He had 11 points, one of four Davidson players in double figures. Lee scored 18, while Mennenga contributed 10.

UMass pulled as close as four with 10:19 left when Weeks splashed a 3 to cut Davidson’s advantage to 57-53.

The Wildcats then ripped off eight consecutive points to re-establish a double-digit lead.

“This was another game where we had our chances but we have to find a way to piece it all together,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “We can't have those stretches in the game.”

Weeks scored 21 points to lead UMass, tying his season high from the Minutemen’s victory over Harvard. He had two points total in his previous three games. 

Fernandes added 19 points, nine assists and five rebounds, while Trent Buttrick notched his first double-double as a Minuteman with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Rich Kelly sank four 3s and had 14 points.

UMass was whistled for 17 fouls compared to just seven by Davidson, but the Wildcats only converted 6-of-12 free throws.

The Minutemen only turned the ball over eight times compared to 14 assists. Davidson turned those eight turnovers into 16 points, however. 

The Wildcats also outscored UMass 32-12 in the paint.

The Minutemen built a 12-point lead over 2:43 midway through the first half. Weeks scored nine of those points on two 3s and hitting all three free throws after he was fouled. Rich Kelly also bombed a 3 from well behind the arc, which is quickly becoming his specialty.

“I thought our effort and intention were excellent,” McCall said. “The guys executed the game plan to perfection.”

Davidson responded with a 9-0 run to narrow the gap. At one point UMass was whistled for three fouls in less than a minute (two on Javohn Garcia and one on Weeks). During that minute, the Minutemen thought they had a defensive stand and that Mennenga was out of bounds when he saved the ball to Michael Jones for a 3 that made it 23-17 with 9:46 to halftime. McCall and UMass lobbied that it should have resulted in a turnover, but the referees ruled he was in the air when saving the ball and let the basket stand.

Brajkovic tied the game for Davidson at 26 with 5:12 to halftime, but Fernandes returned UMass’ lead with a 3. Jones splashed another 3 that tied it 3 minutes later.

Buttrick put the Minutemen back on top with a left corner three after a ridiculous cross-court pass by Fernandes with 1:34 to halftime.

Lee had a chance to knot the score again with an and-one free throw after converting a driving layup, but he missed. Both teams missed potential shots as the first half clock wound down, and UMass entered the break with a one-point lead.

The Minutemen were without junior guard C.J. Kelly, who missed the game with knee swelling as a precautionary measure. He’d started UMass’ last 10 games.The loss dips UMass (7-8, 0-3) under .500 for the first time this season after three sraight losses. The Minutemen have been at .500 or better since dropping to 2-3 after a double overtime loss to George Mason last season.

“These three games don’t define us. There’s a lot of basketball in front of us,” McCall said. “We can win a lot of games. I believe that.”

The Minutemen return to the Mullins Center for their next game, hosting Rhode Island at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

“We have to embrace the challenge and accept it,” Fernandes said. “You can’t run from it.”

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

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