The Massachusetts men’s basketball team opened its season on a high note, defeating UMass Lowell 74-69.
The Minutemen (1-0) had a balanced scoring effort with five players hitting double digits. Unique McLean led UMass with 12 points, no basket being bigger than his last.
With under 30 seconds to go and the Minutemen holding onto a 70-67 lead, senior C.J. Anderson poked the ball away from a River Hawk and came up with the steal. He took one dribble then rifled a pass to a streaking McLean who threw down a reverse slam to give UMass a two possession lead with 13 seconds left on the clock.
“Yeah after (the dunk) it was pretty much game over. I felt like it was pretty much game over,” McLean said. “But they still made some tough shots and we still had to make some free throws down the stretch, so the dunk didn’t really matter.”
While the Minutemen got the result they wanted, the road to getting there wasn’t pretty. UMass shot just 20 percent from three, making three-of-15 from behind the arc. They also had 15 turnovers, nine of which came during the first 20 minutes of action.
McCall chalks the poor start up to effort.
“We have to learn how to win,” McCall said. “I told them yesterday before practice we constantly get off to bad starts at practice. It’s just our effort. That’s learning how to win, showing up and having the right frame of mind in practice and talking to each other the right way on the floor. I thought in the first half we just got caught up too much in whether the ball was going in the basket and just our overall effort.”
UML was playing without its best player, Jahad Thomas, who scored 18.3 per game for the River Hawks a year ago. It was guard Matt Harris who stepped up for UML in his absence, hitting four threes on way to a team high 19 points.
UMass had center Rashaan Holloway back in the lineup after missing five weeks of preseason with a hand injury. The big man gave the Minutemen 16 minutes, scoring 12 points on an efficient five-of-seven from the field. Holloway also added three blocked shots.
“That’s my job on this team, protect the basket,” Holloway said. “I know two of them sparked big baskets, a fast break layup, but that’s what my team looks for me to do. Protect the basket, get rebounds, and score.”
Holloway was paired down low with Malik Hines, who finished the game with an 11 point, 13 rebound double-double. The towering duo led UMass to dominate in the rebounding department, where it outrebounded the River Hawks 39-27.
UMass struggled throughout the game from the free throw line. While they were drawing fouls and shot 34 shots from the line, they made just 23 of them, good for 67 percent.
UML did a good job of containing guard Luwane Pipkins. Pipkins torched the River Hawks a season ago, where he finished with 14 points and eight steals. They made sure to be aggressive on screens, not allowing Pipkins to use his quickness to break down the defense.
“I thought [Pipkins] got a little bit consumed with the ball going in and out of the basket,” McCall said. “We’re going to have to rely on his scoring a lot. You know he had eight steals in the game last year, really pressuring the ball, that’s kind of why we went to a 55 defense, we call it, where he’s picking up full court. I would’ve liked to have pressed, I would’ve liked to have run around, trapped, and have done that, but we weren’t exerting enough energy in the first half to be able to press, so we completely abandoned it, but we need to press.”
The Minutemen won’t have much time to celebrate the win, as they travel to Cambridge Sunday to take on Harvard. UMass came away with a 70-66 victory over the Crimson last season.
Thomas Johnston can be reached at [email protected] and followed on twitter @TJ__Johnston.