UMass had used the Mullins Center as a cure all after every loss, stumble or close game this season. The friendly confines of home court had kept the Minutemen's surprising bubble hopes alive and put UMass in the running for a potential Atlantic 10 regular season championship. Atlantic 10 rival LaSalle ended some of that magic Saturday, with a thrilling victory that came down to the buzzer.
Terrell Vinson's jumper at the buzzer came with his foot on the line and Vinson and the Minutemen (18-8 7-5 A10) fell just short against LaSalle (18-9, 7-5 A10) by a 72-71 score.
Point guard Chaz Williams finished with a 11 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds but his second consecutive double-double came during the team's first two game losing streak of the season. Freshmen Maxie Esho led the Minutemen with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting but hit just 4-of-9 free throws, including missing the front end of a one-and-one with under a minute to go and Umass trailing by just two .
Sophomore forward Raphiael Putney added 17 points and tied Williams and senior center Sean Carter with a team-high seven rebounds. The Minutemen shot 44.6 percent (49-of-65) from the field but hit just 9-of-18 free throws for the game. UMass' poor free throw shooting ruined a strong effort in the paint where the team scored 46 points and the team's 25-14 advantage in points off turnovers.
Junior guard Earl Pettis (18 points) led four Explorers who finished with 15 points or more. Pettis knocked down more 3-pointers than the entire UMass side, as he went 5-of-8 from behind the arc, and 6-of-11 for the game. Jerrell Wright, the lone starting forward for LaSalle, led the team with eight rebounds to go along with 15 points and Tyreek Duren (six assists) and Ramon Galloway (seven rebounds) also chipped in with 15 points apiece.
The Explorers knocked down 43 percent (26-of-60) of their shots from the field and 70.6 percent (12-of-17) of their attempts from the charity stripe. It was the Explorers ability to knock down the 3-point shot 8-of-23 (34.8 percent), compared to 4-of-17 (23.5 percent) for UMass, and the clutch shooting of Duren down the stretch that gave LaSalle the season sweep.
After UMass overcame their biggest deficit of the game (nine points) with six minutes to go, they couldn't find the offense to match Duren in the final minute. The Philadelphia native hit a go-ahead jumper with 50 seconds to go to give LaSalle a 68-66 lead and then hit three of four free throws down the stretch to give the Explorers just enough. UMass had their chances in the final minute but the Minutemen missed three 3-pointers and Maxie Esho missed the front end of a one-and-one with UMass trailing 68-66 with 32 seconds to go.
The Minutemen will be back in action Tuesday night when they host Xavier at 7 p.m. EDT.