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Carl Pierre’s breakout performance helps UMass men’s basketball over Western Carolina

(Caroline O’Connor/ Daily Collegian)

Freshman guard Carl Pierre has been seeing increased minutes for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, and he’s making the most of them.

Pierre played a season-high 28 minutes in UMass’ 85-76 win over Western Carolina (1-4) on Tuesday, dropping 15 points to help the Minutemen (3-1) to their third win of the season.

After playing just 18 and 14 minutes against UMass Lowell and Harvard, Pierre earned 25 on Sunday before earning another bump Tuesday, as coach Matt McCall has been throwing him in big moments, which has yielded big results.

His 15-point performance comes off the heels of a 16-point effort against Niagara on Sunday, as Pierre proved his weekend scoring outburst was no fluke.

“I think it’s great for Carl,” McCall said. “I think he’s getting baptized by fire, he’s in there in big moments, he’s not afraid. He hopped up and dunked one tonight, I haven’t even seen him dunk in practice.”

Pierre hit a three-pointer and a mid-range jumper on back-to-back possessions midway through the first half to help launch a 16-1 run that helped UMass seize control of the game before halftime.

His three-point shooting (3-9) wasn’t quite as sharp as it was Sunday, but he’s still making big shots as his confidence grows.

“Carl’s still a baby,” said sophomore Luwane Pipkins. “He’s just getting the hang of the game right now, he’s getting a feel for it, we just got to stay up his behind, tell him to keep shooting the ball, play with confidence, and that’s what he’s been doing.”

Pierre was at the center of another important stretch for the Minutemen in the second half, after nailing a corner three to cap off a 14-2 run that put the game firmly out of reach.

Less than a minute earlier, Pierre got his teammates and the crowd fired up, when he took a pass on the break from Pipkins and threw down a rim-grazing dunk—which Pipkins, along with RayShawn Miller, refused to acknowledge as anything more than a “baby dunk” in the postgame press conference—to bring the Mullins Center alive.

Pierre’s improved dramatically as he’s earned more opportunities, and McCall sees plenty of potential in his young guard, comparing him favorably to Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure’s First Team All-Conference guard—Adams, similarly, was “baptized by fire”, seeing a ton of early minutes as a freshman for the Bonnies.

“That’s not to put pressure on Carl,” McCall said, “but I think when you get this kind of experience, and you’re in close games, it only helps your development.

McCall is really starting to trust Pierre, as his minutes log can attest.

“It’s a by-product of the work he does in practice,” said McCall, “and it’s a by-product of Carl always being completely focused on our team, and never at all focused on himself. He’s never focused on himself. He’s focused on what’s best for the program, what goes into winning, and he has an appreciation level for being here, he’s got an appreciation for playing for his state university, and his development is big for us going forward.”

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

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