Freshman Carl Pierre was feeling it and he was feeling it early.
Going into the halftime break on Friday Pierre had 16 points, which was more than the entire Maine team had scored, as the Massachusetts men’s basketball team cruised to a 74-63 victory over the Black Bears.
While the final score shows a close game, the outcome was never in doubt. The Minutemen led 40-15 at halftime and had a 34-point lead with 12 minutes remaining. The lead was so big that UMass coach Matt McCall sent walk-on Jaylen Franklin into the game for his first minutes of the season with seven minutes still left on the clock.
Maine would fight back and get it as close as 11 with 1:51 left, but its run came a little too late.
McCall saw this as a game where his team was at its best at times, but also played at a level that was unacceptable late.
“That game is completely a byproduct of our team,” McCall said. “When we’re locked in, when we’re on edge, when we’re focused, when we’re into the game, we’re pretty good. We’ve beaten some really good teams and had some big wins. When we’re not and we’re not locked in and we’re not focused and we’re not on edge we are average at best. To me that’s what the last 11 minutes of the game were.”
Pierre would finish with 25 points on 9-13 shooting. He was also 7-9 from three. Luwane Pipkins, who was still dealing with back spasms, was limited to just 16 minutes but was still able to come away with 16 points. Big men Rashaan Holloway and Malik Hines would add 10 points each.
“I just felt like everything I put up was going down,” Pierre said. “It was like throwing a golf ball into an ocean at one point. It felt good.”
Pierre, who entered the game averaging 9.3 points per game, feels that while he is still young and learning he is growing with each game. Pierre is averaging 23 minutes per game this season, and those game reps have allowed him to mature at a fast rate.
“Still learning the ins-and-outs, but this definitely helped,” Pierre said. “I’m starting to get a rhythm for the speed of the game and what you can and can’t do to score and tonight was an example of me progressing in knowing this game.”
The win marks the final non-conference game UMass will play this season. Pierre will enter conference play having scored in double figures in the last three games and is playing his best basketball of the season.
“It gives me a good deal of confidence,” Pierre said. “I know conference play is going to be tough. It’s going to be a lot harder to score and games are going to be really grind-it-out. This definitely helps me going into conference play. I’m excited to go in and very confident with my group of guys.”
While Pierre continues to impress, McCall continues to push him to make sure he doesn’t get complacent.
“He never ceases to amaze me,” McCall said. “I was not impressed with his defense in the second half. I was impressed that he made shots and took good ones and played with a lot of confidence. I don’t know many freshmen that drop 25 in a game and hit seven threes. That’s pretty impressive numbers for a freshman to do that.”
Even without scoring a single point, guard C.J. Anderson was still able to have a huge impact on the game, as he was in the giving spirit of the holidays, tossing out a career high 12 assists. He was three dimes away from tying the UMass record of 15 assists in a single game.
“My role changes everyday,” Anderson said. “It just depends on the game. I just take it on. I love my role no matter what.”
The Minutemen open conference play Saturday Dec. 30 as they travel to New York to take on Saint Bonaventure.
Thomas Johnston can be reached at [email protected] and followed on twitter @TJ__Johnston.