After scoring a career high 34 points against Niagara on Sunday, sophomore Luwane Pipkins picked up where he left off, scoring a game high 21 points to help the Massachusetts men’s basketball team defeat Western Carolina 85-76.
It was two big runs that helped give UMass the victory, the first coming with the Minutemen trailing 27-21 with 9:12 remaining in the first half. It was then that UMass caught fire offensively, going on a 21-8 run to give it a 42-35 lead heading into the halftime break. The Minutemen (3-1) would not trail again for the remainder of the game.
“I thought the game changed when we were able to press,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “I told our guys we can’t allow them to dictate the tempo. That’s how they want to play, they want to slow it down, they want to walk it up sometimes, they want to dictate the tempo and then play smash mouth basketball. We can’t allow that to happen. Once we got our press into the game, the flow of the game changed.”
The Catamounts (1-4) were able to cut into the lead in the second half, but just when it looked like they would be able to jump ahead with UMass leading by just a point with 9:07 to play, the Minutemen went on an 11-0 run, capped off by a fastbreak slam by freshman Carl Pierre.
Once McCall was able to get his team to pick up the pace and force Western Carolina out of its comfort zone, the Minutemen were able to take control, as they forced the Catamounts to turn the ball over 17 times.
“I told our guys at the half if we guard the three, take care of the basketball and we outrebound them we will win this game,” McCall said. “Those three things happened for the most part, they were 3-10 in the second half from three.”
The second half saw Western Carolina switch to a zone that gave UMass fits offensively, allowing the Catamounts to creep back into the game.
The Minutemen got contributions on the perimeter from role players RayShawn Miller and Pierre who knocked down key 3-pointers to help break the zone. It was a Miller three that jumpstarted the 11-0 run.
“I thought it was a huge three,” McCall said. “We went with four guards and spaced the floor against their zone. We were getting wide open looks. I thought we were too pass happy, we kept trying to throw it back and forth across the top of the zone. We weren’t driving the gaps, we weren’t ball faking the passes. Our bigs weren’t ducking in. Finally when we spaced the floor the shots were there and (Miller) made a big one.”
Pipkins big game wasn’t just in the scoring department. The guard also added a career high 10 assists to give him a double-double to go along with his 5-for-12 shooting from down town.
“My confidence has been this way since high school,” Pipkins said. “If I’m missing, I’m missing. If I’m hitting, I’m hitting. At the end of the day we got the dub. That’s all that matters.”
The UMass size began exerting its will on Western Carolina as the game wore on. The Minutemen finished with 14 offensive rebounds, eight of which coming at the hands of 6-foot-10 power forward Malik Hines.
UMass will look to build on its hot start to the season Friday, where it faces its first big test of the season as it takes on No. 14 Minnesota.
The Minutemen have the advantage of already studying the Golden Gophers, as both Niagara and Western Carolina took on Minnesota before facing UMass.
“We’ve watched them twice on film,” McCall said. “Top to bottom, you don’t see a lot of weaknesses. Terrific point guard, maybe the best in the country. Terrific front court player, terrific wings, they bring depth off the bench. It’s going to present a lot of challenges for us and I’m excited to go down there and compete.”
Thomas Johnston can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @TJ__Johnston.