|Central Florida’s Keith Clanton dips under the rim and drops home a basket despite the long-arm defense of Hashim Bailey. (Matthew Cavanaughassociated Press)|
UMass comes up short
AMHERST — For the University of Massachusetts, a November to remember has given way to a December sponsored by the Grinch.
The Minutemen burst to a 6-0 record last month and upped it to 7-0 with a buzzer-beater at Quinnipiac on the first of this month. But after last night’s 64-59 loss to Central Florida, UMass has dropped four in a row.
“It’s a frustrating loss,’’ said UMass senior Anthony Gurley, who scored a game-high 17 points. “We didn’t convert down the stretch. This was a very winnable game for us.’’
True, but in some ways this was a step forward after the most recent losses, both on the home court, to Maine and Seton Hall.
The Minutemen showed some fight against a Central Florida team that has emerged as a top national story in the young season. The Knights, who joined Division 1 in 1984-85, were playing their first game as a nationally ranked team (No. 24). Their 10-0 record coming in included impressive victories over Florida and Miami.
They also feature a star player with the name “M. Jordan’’ on his jersey. Marcus Jordan, a sophomore, and son of Michael Jordan, might not be the heir to Air, but he has elevated the Knights to a place where they have never been.
Last night he was not expected to play, after injuring his ankle in Saturday’s win over Miami. He hadn’t practiced all week, and sat out the entire first half. “At halftime, he was begging me: ‘Put me in, put me in,’ ’’ said first-year coach Donnie Jones.
Five minutes into the second half, with the score tied at 34, Jones relented. He put in the burly, 6-foot-3-inch lefthanded guard, and switched to a zone defense to protect Jordan.
With 12:28 left, Jordan scored his first points on an aggressive drive to the hoop to put the Knights ahead, 41-40. They would never relinquish the lead. They built it to as many as 7, before UMass drew within 3 with two minutes left on a bucket by Sean Carter.
The Minutemen would have two chances to tie down the stretch, but 3-pointers by Daryl Traynham and Raphiael Putney rimmed out. That was an ongoing theme throughout the evening as UMass went 2 for 22 from behind the arc.
Jordan then showed the genetic ice in his veins by nailing two free throws with 38 seconds left, and UMass never got the ball with a chance to tie.
“[Jordan] gave them one more weapon,’’ said UMass coach Derek Kellogg. “I thought he gave them a great boost offensively.’’
He had some help. Isaac Sosa, playing all 40 minutes, scored a team-high 14 points on 5-for-10 shooting, 4 for 8 from behind the arc.
“To be honest, nobody thought we’d be 11-0 going home for Christmas,’’ said Sosa.
UMass had some encouraging individual performances. Putney had his best game yet with 8 points and five boards. Terrell Vinson, who has struggled to get on track all season, had a strong second half and finished with 8 points.
Still, the Minutemen will be scrounging around the tinsel and pine needles beneath the tree looking for a win. That elusive quest resumes Dec. 31 when they host Boston University.