UMass basketball tops UMass Lowell 90-76 in season opener

By Adam Aucoin

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(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

Coming into Friday’s season opener against UMass Lowell, all of the talk around the Massachusetts men’s basketball program was if the young Minutemen would make a statement to prove they are as good as pundits said they are or if they would lay an egg in an easily winnable game.

A statement was made.

UMass (1-0) had no trouble topping the River Hawks and were in control pretty much from start to finish in a 90-76 win over UML (0-1) in front of a packed Mullins Center crowd.

Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg was happy with how the team came out and to get the opening day win, but he believes there is plenty of room for improvement.

“I’m happy to be 1-0 and coming away with an opening day victory on Veteran’s Day, which I think was a great atmosphere today. It was nice to see the students come out,” Kellogg said. “We had more good basketball than we did in our two scrimmages, but still a long way from where we need to be to compete at the top of our conference. You could see the youth at times. There are obviously some things to work on, but this is a fun, spirited group.”

UMass was paced by a strong performance by sophomore Rashaan Holloway, who had a career-high 21 points, along with three blocks. When the 6-foot 11 center was on the floor, he was clearly overpowering most River Hawks defenders he came up against.

UML coach Pat Duquette admitted it was tough for the River Hawks to game plan on how to deal with Holloway’s size.

“For us, it was more just kind of emotionally. We’re like what can we do against this guy. He’s so much bigger than us,” Duquette said. “They did go into a him a bunch and he had (16) points (in the first half). He was only 8-for-13 from the free throw line, so not totally efficient, but there’s not much we could have done about some of those things. He’s much bigger than our guys.”

Junior Donte Clark and freshman Luwane Pipkins also chipped 14 points for the Minutemen.

For Pipkins, it wasn’t his offensive game that necessarily caught people’s attention Friday, as his play on the defensive side of the ball burned even brighter. Pipkins’ on-ball defense gave UML trouble throughout the game, as he tied a UMass program record with eight steals in the game.

“Everybody gets rattled,” Pipkins said about the effect he had on the River Hawks mentality on the court. “I was bringing that dog from Chicago. And that’s what I did tonight. DK talked about pressure, he stressed pressure a lot in practice. So coming into the game, I knew how to play full court, 100 feet. So when I was doing, I guess they were getting rattled and I just kept putting my foot on their throat.”

Kellogg loved the grit he saw out his young guard.

“We’ve watched him in high school and AAU and even around our team this year and that’s what he brings to the table; the toughness and the Chicago edge, that’s why I love him as a player,” Kellogg said.

Despite the successes the Minutemen had in Friday’s game, UML remained tough in the second half. At the peak of UMass’ play, they were up 26 points on the River Hawks, but UML was able to get deficit down to 14 before the final buzzer.

Kellogg was impressed with the River Hawks’ ability to hang in there after getting down by a significant amount.

“They were scrappy tough, they seemed well coached, a team that can be very pesky because they all shoot threes and they’re tough to cover at different spots and I think they are going to do pretty well in our league,” Kellogg said. “You know, we skirmished Albany and they are kind of in the similar boat of pretty good teams that are well coached and scrappy.”

Guard Matt Harris led the way offensively for UML scoring 16 points and four assists. Fellow guard Jahad Thomas chipped in 15 points of his own and finished with eight rebounds.

The Minutemen will be back in action Monday night when they travel to take on Ole Miss at 7 p.m. in Oxford, Mississippi.

Adam Aucoin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @aaucoin34.