CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With 14.8 seconds left in Saturday’s game against the Charlotte 49ers, all the ills that had plagued the University of Massachusetts had a chance to be forgotten.
The woeful free throw shooting (37.5 percent), the excessive fouls (24), and the uncharacteristically poor ball protection (18 turnovers to that point) — none of it really mattered as UMass point guard Chaz Williams dribbled upcourt for the last possession with his team trailing by a point.
Fittingly, though, the game ended on another UMass miscue, as Williams lowered his head and dribbled into multiple defenders while trying to make a play near the foul line. Charlotte’s Pierria Henry emerged with the ball as time expired, sending the Minutemen home with a 66-65 defeat in a key Atlantic 10 Conference matchup.
UMass coach Derek Kellogg barked at officials as green and white confetti fell at Halton Arena, but it didn’t change the outcome for the Minutemen, who dipped to 14-6 overall, 4-3 in the A-10.
“It’s hard to win on the road when you go 6 for 16 from the free throw line and give them 19 offensive rebounds,” Kellogg said. “We have to work at those things in practice. And we’re back at it against another tough one [at home against Rhode Island] on Wednesday. This league is going to be these types of games for everybody all year long — 1-point games, 2-point games. Now in one week, two 1-point games.”
But unlike UMass’s previous game, a 61-60 victory over La Salle secured by Williams’s running layup with 8.1 seconds left last Wednesday, there were no late-game heroics against Charlotte (17-4, 5-2). The Minutemen seemed out of character from the outset.
The Minutemen entered Saturday averaging 13.9 turnovers per contest, with the number at 12.1 in A-10 play.
Before the game, the Minutemen were committing 19.1 fouls per game. They exceeded that average by five on Saturday, and foul trouble resulted in sporadic playing time for 6-foot-10-inch sophomore Cady Lalanne (15 minutes). Lalanne and UMass’s top two scorers — Williams and Terrell Vinson — all finished with four fouls, while a trio of other Minutemen had three.
Perhaps most detrimental to UMass was its inaccuracy from the foul line. Through its first 19 games, UMass connected on 70.9 percent of its free throw attempts. On Saturday the Minutemen shot 6 of 16.
“We haven’t really been able to shoot [free throws] as much as normal,” Kellogg said. “Normally, in practice, we shoot them quite frequently. But with a week of traveling and just being on the road, it kind of gets where one guy misses a few, [and] the next guy misses a couple. But I think we’ll bounce back and make them in the future.”
Despite all those shortcomings, the Minutemen were in it until the end, and a big reason was their 3-point shooting (9 of 20, 45 percent).
UMass cut the deficit to 66-65 on a Williams layup with 17.2 seconds left, and the Minutemen quickly fouled Charlotte’s Victor Nickerson, who missed a pair of free throws with 14.8 seconds to go. UMass’s Raphiael Putney corralled the rebound and passed to Williams to set up the last possession. Williams, who finished with 16 points and three assists, was asked if he was fouled on the final play.
“You know what, I’m a basketball player, and things happen,” he said softly. “I’m just going to take the good with the bad. I think I got fouled, but I don’t want to put the game in the ref’s hands.”
Kellogg smiled and turned the question back toward the media.
“What do you think?” the coach asked.
“The reality was I just put the ball in Chaz’s hands, like we’ve done all year,” Kellogg said. “We didn’t get quite get into our set fast enough, we didn’t get it up quick enough, so we didn’t quite get exactly what we were looking for. But I’ll probably do the same thing the next time we’re in that situation.”