ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Jesse Morgan started the run with a 3-pointer, and a Chaz Williams-to-Sean Carter alley-oop ended it with a bang.
UMass 15, Temple 0.
That’s the kind of sizzling run that changes games and puts top-seeded teams on the brink of an upset loss. In this case, it was Temple.
With the speedy Williams slicing his way down the lane toward 20 points and 10 assists, Massachusetts beat No. 21 Temple 77-71 on Friday, advancing to the Atlantic 10 tournament semifinals.
Yes, UMass knocked off a Top 25 Kansas team in 2008–09. But given the stakes, this was UMass’ biggest win in coach Derek Kellogg’s four seasons.
“Some people would think so,” he said.
The No. 1-seeded Owls (24-7) might feel that way on the long bus ride back to Philadelphia.
Morgan scored 21 points for the eighth-seeded Minutemen (22-10), who used the dominant and shocking 15-0 spurt to open the second half and spoiled the Owls’ bid for a fourth tournament title in five seasons.
“When you’re playing a Top 25 team who’s been here, and kind of done very well here, sometimes you’re not exactly certain how things are going to work out,” Kellogg said.
He had little to worry about after halftime.
UMass took control in the second half on a string of 3-pointers and Williams clinched it down the stretch from the free-throw line. Williams popped his No. 3 jersey toward a small but vocal group of UMass fans behind the basket in celebration.
Khalif Wyatt scored 15 points and Ramone Moore had 14 for the Owls. Temple won its first outright A-10 title since 1990, and will still be in the NCAA tournament field of 68.
The game was another back-and-forth showdown in the second half, reminiscent of their last meeting, Temple’s thrilling 90-88 overtime win on Feb. 29.
Knowing a tournament bid depended on winning the A-10, the Minutemen shook off a sluggish first half to outwork and outhustle Temple in the second. Morgan, Raphiael Putney and Terrell Vinson all buried 3-pointers, and Williams’ lob to Carter for an emphatic alley-oop made it 46-36.
Williams, about an inch or two shorter than his 5-foot-9 listed height, saluted the UMass fans behind the basket.
“It’s just his passion,” Carter said.
Even though the run pushed the momentum back toward UMass, the Owls didn’t have another standout season because they fold in crunch time.
Once Moore and Juan Fernandez shook off some cold shooting, the Owls got going and pulled ahead of UMass. But Temple simply didn’t have enough in the waning minutes. Moore connected on three straight 3-pointers and Fernandez hit a 3 to pull within 55-50. The Owls tried to win this one from the outside. But they did little to stop Williams and the Minutemen’s speedy guards.
In the end, it cost them.
Morgan and Javorn Ferrell hit back-to-back 3s for a 68-64 lead — making the Minutemen a sizzling 9 of 16 from beyond the arc. Williams made 8 of 10 free throws and Morgan hit three 3-pointers.
UMass played the final 4½ minutes without a timeout. The Minutemen didn’t need one.
Williams made it a four-point game from the free-throw line after Temple pulled to within two with 28 seconds left.
The victory kept Massachusetts alive for an NCAA bid. UMass made seven of their career appearances in the 1990s and haven’t been back yet. Kellogg played for UMass in the 1990s and never lost a game in the A-10 tournament (12-0 from 1992 to 1995).
Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson scored 13 points for Temple and Fernandez had 12. Michael Eric grabbed 11 rebounds to help Temple hold a 39-30 edge on the boards. Temple made a whopping 22 turnovers.
“We didn’t answer very well,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said.
Wyatt started on the bench for what the Owls called a recent “timing issue,” and was replaced by T.J. DiLeo.
The Owls are still locks for the NCAA tournament. But it could affect their seeding. It could also hurt a bubble team like Drexel, Temple’s Philly neighbor. The Dragons certainly didn’t need a tournament favorite to go down early. Drexel coach Bruiser Flint, incidentally, led UMass the last time it made the tournament in 1998.
This is the final tournament in New Jersey before it moves to the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Owls are leaving for the Big East after next season.
“We get down, we don’t stay down,” Dunphy said. “Hopefully, we use this as an opportunity to play better basketball.”
Williams, who averaged 17.5 points, only scored three midway through the first half before scorching the Owls in the second. Temple led 36-31 at the break. By the time UMass led 46-31 in the second, though, the Owls didn’t know what hit them. After all, Williams is talented, fast and too hard to guard.
“We made a lot of mistakes down the stretch,” Moore said. “In these types of games, you’ve got to be perfect down the stretch.”
Temple won the last meeting by making all the big plays in overtime. It was UMass’ turn when it really counted this time.
“Once we found out Temple was our first matchup, we just locked in and learned from our mistakes from last game,” Williams said. “We just tried to move on from them.”
Mission accomplished. — (AP)