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UMass men’s basketball falls to Harvard in overtime thriller

(Caroline OConnor/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team fell to Harvard on Sunday 70-67, as another classic between UMass (1-1) and Harvard (2-0) went to overtime and culminated in a wild finish.

After nailing a pull-up three in the dying seconds of regulation to push the game to overtime, sophomore Luwane Pipkins did the same thing in overtime, hitting a contested fade-away from deep to tie the game at 67-67 with 7.6 seconds to play.

The last of Pipkins’ 23 points weren’t enough, as Harvard guard Bryce Aiken came down the other end and matched him, drilling a pull-up 3-pointer of his own with just 1.9 seconds remaining to seal a thrilling win for the Crimson.

“I told our team in the locker room after the game, I am not one for moral victories,I don’t believe in that,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “Tonight’s result was, to me, our guys need to learn from it and grow from it. I think our guys understand that we have a chance to be a good basketball team, but that’s not going to happen unless we bring it every single day.”

Aiken led the way for Harvard, dropping 30 points on 9-20 shooting — 4-8 from three-point range — including the biggest shot of the afternoon.

It was an evenly-matched, back-and-forth affair throughout, with neither team ever leading by more than six points. The crowd on hand was engaged throughout, creating an electric atmosphere inside Lavietes Pavilion.

“It’s very fun,” said Pipkins, “it was a good crowd out there, Harvard got a good crowd, we got a good crowd out here, it was fun playing against Aiken and Harvard, but at the end of the day we go to get the win.”

Foul trouble forced senior C.J. Anderson and junior Rashaan Holloway to the bench early, having each picked up their second personal foul early in the first half, especially problematic as Anderson had been very effective offensively. They’d continue to have trouble, with each playing with four fouls down the stretch, but McCall trusted his guys late.

“When C.J.’s on the bench in the first half, that really, really hurt,” said McCall. “I thought about taking him out to start overtime, but he’s a smart enough player to know that he’s got to pick his spots, but I trust him, I know he’s going to know the spots to be in and pick his spots from an aggression standpoint defensively.

“They were struggling guarding C.J. at the four spot, guarding him off the bounce. Do they hedge him, do they switch him, what do they do? And he kept getting down the lane and creating offense for us, that was really our best offense in the game, when we were small.”

Anderson finished with 12 points on 6-8 shooting, while Holloway added 15 points to go along with nine rebounds in his second game back from injury.

The competition rose to a crescendo in the final minutes, as Pipkins tried to will his team to victory. Pipkins scored on three consecutive possessions in the final two minutes of regulation, and looked to have done so a fourth time, but a questionable travel call negated the basket, handing the ball back to Harvard with a two-point lead and 20.5 seconds to play, as the UMass bench and crowd behind it was irate.

Pipkins, for his part, didn’t flinch, as he came down on the next possession, down three, and drilled a three-pointer to tie the game at 58-58 and push it to overtime.

“He was a little more poised than I was,” McCall said, “and I give him credit for that. He knew that we go to play the game possession by possession, I constantly talk to those guys about that, staying focused on the moment, it’s about the next possession.”

Pipkins recreated his heroics in overtime, but couldn’t outduel Aiken in the final seconds. McCall was nonetheless impressed with his point guard’s poise in the clutch.

“Luwane and C.J. both I thought were terrific in the game,” said McCall, “Luwane’s not afraid, he likes these types of moments, for the most part he’s been very consistent with his effort level in practice, but him and C.J. both, we wanted to keep the ball in their hands at the end of the game.”

McCall also took some pride in his team’s effort and fight down the stretch.

“I was really, really proud of our team,” said McCall, “I thought we showed tremendous resilience and perseverance in the game, some things didn’t go our way late and we didn’t flinch, and for that I was proud of our guys. But the frustrating part as a coach is just, that effort that was out there on the floor, it has to be that way every single day with everything that we do for us to reach our potential.”

The Minutemen have the week off, before returning to action next Sunday at home against Niagara.

Amin Touri can be reached at atouri@umass.edu, and followed on Twitter @Amin_Touri.

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