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December 11, 2017

UMass men’s basketball comes away with 64-50 win over Holy Cross

In the week prior to the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s game against Holy Cross, UMass coach Matt McCall hinted that he wouldn’t be afraid to shake up the starting lineup to put an end to the consistently bad starts the Minutemen have experienced.

A change came in the form of starting Luwane Pipkins, Rayshawn Miller, Carl Pierre, C.J. Anderson and Malik Hines—a smaller starting lineup without Rashaan Holloway or Chris Baldwin. UMass (4-5) did eventually win 64-50 but had to overcome another poor start in which they scored only two points in the first four minutes of the game.

“We stayed small in the game, when you’re playing against four guards sometimes a five man who shoots threes, it was our most affective lineup,” McCall said. “We played big a little bit in the first half, went zone, had a few good possessions, lost a guy one time and gave up a three. But I just felt as a coach in the second half we just had to ride with those six guys, Malik, Unique [McClean], C.J., Pip, Carl and Ray. They logged a lot of minutes, but our defense was through the roof and I didn’t want to mess up our rhythm we had defensively.”

Holy Cross’ inability to shoot would ultimately be their downfall, making the Minutemen look much better in the second half than in the first.

Though UMass’ shooting percentage floated around the 40 percent mark for most of the game, ending at 39 percent by the time the final buzzer rang, Holy Cross (2-6) was unable to get much of any offense going in the second half.

The Minutemen’s true advantage came from an unlikely source—free throws.

UMass finished the game going 20-of-22 from the line, almost tripling its success from its two previous games combined. Jokingly, but then again maybe not, McCall said, “It was nice to get there, wasn’t it?”

“When you shoot 11 more free throws than your opponent, most nights you’re going to win,” McCall said. “Last two games we shot 10 our opponents shot 55, we didn’t win. So I thought we were aggressive, I thought we were putting pressure on the paint. One of our assistants said in the first half that we’re not getting enough touches inside, and I said, ‘But we’re getting rhythm wide open threes.’ We’re going to keep taking rhythm wide open threes. We missed some bunnies in there but our guys were aggressive, they were aggressive with the ball.”

Of Pipkins’ team-leading 13 points, all of which came in the first half, six were from the free throw line. Anderson also supplied the Minutemen with seven.

“Coach [Rasheen] Davis said that [Holy Cross] puts guys to the line 20-plus times a game,” Pipkins said. “He just told us to attack the paint, shoot open shots and hope that they’ll foul us.”

In the second half the Minutemen outscored the Crusaders 30-19, none of which came from the hands of Pipkins. Instead the likes of McLean, Pierre and Hines provided the Minutemen with enough offense to keep their distance from Holy Cross.

Scoring in double digits for the first time since opening night, McLean took steps toward becoming the player McCall hopes he could be.

“I thought it was all about his approach,” McCall said. “I thought he had the right approach in the game. He had the right attitude, he was coachable, I thought he was great and I told him that. I praised him as he came off the floor, I said, ‘Great job, way to respond.’ He was good tonight.”

McCall also praised Pierre who earned his first ever collegiate start against the Crusaders. Despite missing his first three 3-pointers of the night, Pierre finished with nine points in 23 minutes. When McCall had approached Pierre earlier in the week to tell him he was starting, he said the freshman “didn’t flinch.” To Pierre, whether starting or not starting, it was all the same.

“Honestly, there was really no change in my mindset,” Pierre said. “I just wanted to come in and play with an edge. I feel like when I do come off the bench that is still my mentality, come in and play with an edge.”

UMass will host Providence Saturday. Tip-off is set for 3 p.m.

Philip Sanzo can be reached at psanzo@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @Philip_Sanzo.

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