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UMass has best defensive performance of year against Holy Cross

(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)

After one half of play, it looked as though the Massachusetts men’s basketball team was in for yet another close finish.

That’s when the Minutemen began to assert themselves on the defensive end of the court, holding Holy Cross to just 19 points in the second half on the way to ending their four-game losing streak with a 64-50 win.

The 50 points allowed were the fewest points UMass (4-5) has given up on the season. It is also the first time the Minutemen have kept their opponent to less than 60 points since a game against St. Joseph’s on Jan. 18, 2017.

“I thought by far our best defensive performance of the year,” Minutemen coach Matt McCall said. “Only having two days to prepare for them, the Princeton style and the way they play it’s a complicated offense. I thought it was by far our best defensive performance of the year.”

McCall was especially impressed with the way his team communicated with each other in the second half, as his team was forced to defend on the opposite side of the floor from the bench. The communication worked, which was evident from the fact that the Crusaders scored just seven points in the first 14 minutes of the half.

“Defensively, especially in the second half, they don’t have our voice,” McCall said. “That was a concern of mine going into the half. I told them they have to completely rely on each other. They have to talk; they have to communicate. I thought especially in the second half we really, really guarded. We got three shot clock violations, I think four times in the second half we got three stops in a row.

“It’s the biggest key in the game,” McCall continued. “I wrote on the board communication and alertness, those are the two biggest keys of the game. Those two things, we had to have it all game.”

One player who was instrumental in stifling the Crusaders’ attack was center Malik Hines. Hines played a pivotal role in the paint where he grabbed nine rebounds, paving the way for the Minutemen to outrebound Holy Cross 21-11 in the second half.

While the stat sheet doesn’t credit Hines with any blocked shots, he was able to alter many layups at the rim.

Hines is one of the players McCall feels has grown the most since he’s started as head coach, and his presence inside has been huge for the Minutemen all season.

“I thought [Hines] was terrific in the second half,” McCall said. “I thought he dominated the game. Not just from scoring, but from rebounding, from defense. Talk about a player that has completely changed since March 28 with his approach, his body with everything that he’s doing. You’re seeing the success that he’s having out on the floor.”

Hines finished the game with 10 points, eight coming in the second half. Hines was more impressed with his team’s defense.

“We had three shot clock violations,” Hines said. “That speaks for itself. When we want to be, we’re a good defensive team. I give us credit for that. The second half, we came out and we had to put it on them.”

The Crusaders run a Princeton-style offense, one that relies on a slow pace and playing within the half court game. To combat that, McCall wanted to turn the tempo up and get them out of their rhythm by going to a full court press.

While the press didn’t force a ton of turnovers, it forced Holy Cross to take time off the shot clock each time they brought the ball up court, not allowing them to have a full shot clock to execute their entire offense.

“We wanted to press every possession,” McCall said. “We wanted to press every possession to create tempo. We didn’t want to get into a half court game with them at all because that plays into their hand. I thought our press was really good, I think we only gave up one basket in the press. When we play small like that we need to continue to press and get pressing into the game and our press needs to continue to get better.”

Thomas Johnston can be reached at tjohnston@umass.edu and followed on twitter @TJ__Johnston.

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