WASHINGTON — Injuries. Foul trouble. Late-game deficit. Free throw shooting that gets a team beat. A sold-out Charles E. Smith Center smelling blood and only getting louder.
The deck seemed stacked against the University of Massachusetts on Saturday against George Washington. Somehow, the Minutemen overcame all of it.
Sampson Carter scored 20 points and UMass got a much-needed road win in the Atlantic 10 over a team it was looking up at in the standings. It took gritty plays by seniors on both ends of the floor in the final few minutes with the game on the line, and it produced maybe the most important win for the Minutemen (20-5, 7-4) to date.
When the noise had finally quieted and the 67-61 victory was complete, giving UMass at least 20 wins for the third straight season, Derek Kellogg let out a deep, satisfying exhale. The UMass coach knew exactly how difficult this business trip was going to be, and was proud of the way his team responded.
“That was a big win for us in a hostile environment. I thought our guys fought and scrapped. We didn’t shoot particularly well from the free throw line, but a lot of the other aspects of the game went well,” Kellogg said. “They really never gave in, we never quit. It was, in my estimation, a pretty good college basketball game with a good crowd on a nice Saturday afternoon.
“We needed to win. We needed to know what it feels like to win a big road game against a high-level team.”
They got it, holding the Colonials without a field goal for the final 5:17. But that’s not to say the final few minutes were stress-free for UMass. Hardly.
A third-chance basket by Isaiah Armwood gave George Washington a 58-57 lead with 5:18 left. The Minutemen answered 18 seconds later on an alley-oop from Chaz Williams to Cady Lalanne, reclaiming the lead. After Maurice Creek tied the game at 59 on a free throw with 3:58 left, UMass guard Trey Davis was fouled while attempting a 3-pointer, and made two of three to make it 61-59. The Minutemen never trailed again, despite some shaky shooting from the free throw line. UMass was 12 for 26 in the game.
The Colonials (19-6, 7-4) weren’t much better, going 13 for 21 from the stripe. Some of their misses were extra costly. Three times in the final four minutes, with a chance to either tie or take the lead, George Washington stepped to the line and misfired.
“I thought the game was lost on the free throw line: We went to the line three times in a row and went 1 for 2 three times in a row,” said George Washington coach Mike Lonergan, who may have been selectively looking at the stat sheet and ignoring UMass’s subpar foul shooting.
UMass led by as many as 11 points in the second half, after Derrick Gordon (11 points) drained a 14-footer in the lane to make it 49-38. Less than a minute later, the fouls began to pile up for the Minutemen. Williams picked up his fourth with 11:31 left, bringing in Davis, who had taken a knee to the thigh in the first half and was limited after that, limping and in noticeable pain. Williams (nagging back injury) was also playing hurt.
Carter — who matched his career scoring high on 7-of-10 shooting (4 for 5 on 3-pointers) — picked up two fouls nine seconds apart a minute after Williams left, sending him to the bench, also with four. Maxie Esho fouled out with 7:52 left and UMass clinging to a 5-point lead.
The Colonials scored the next 6 points to jump ahead, prompting Kellogg to put Williams back in.
“I wanted to be more aggressive on defense, but Coach told me to be smart out there,” said Williams, who scored 8 points. “I just wanted to stay on the floor and help my team win. We wanted to come in here and make a statement.”
UMass led for most of the game. The Minutemen went on a 20-7 run in the first half to turn a 15-12 deficit into a 32-22 lead. The majority of that spurt came with Williams on the bench; he picked up his second foul with 7:48 left and UMass leading, 19-17.
Carter and Gordon carried the offensive load for UMass, especially in the first half. Carter made his first four shots (three 3-pointers) and had 12 points at the break. His short baseline floater started the 20-7 run, and Gordon’s spinning, driving bank shot in transition ended it.
George Washington closed the half on a 7-0 run to cut it to 32-29, with Patricio Garino (20 points) scoring 5. The Colonials led just twice in the second half, each time by 1 point, and for a total of 37 seconds.
UMass, hurting and hampered by foul trouble, would not be denied. Three days after losing at the Mullins Center for the first time this season, the Minutemen spoiled George Washington’s bid for a perfect home record.Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.