Minutemen knock off Georgia for big statement win

By Amin Touri

(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

A week after knocking off Providence for its then biggest win of the season, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team outdid itself on Saturday, defeating Georgia 72-62 at home.

The Bulldogs (7-2) presented one of the toughest challenges yet for UMass (6-5), as a team that received votes for the Top 25 in the latest USA Today Coaches Poll, but the Minutemen rode a hot start, lights-out three-point shooting and a balanced scoring attack to notch its best win of the season.

“You don’t get an SEC opponent in your building very often,” said UMass coach Matt McCall, “and our guys came in with the right frame of mind in shootaround today, in warmups today. A great win, a great win for our program.”

Luwane Pipkins led the way with 17 points for UMass, but he was far from alone on the scoresheet—Carl Pierre finished with 15, Rashaan Holloway had 12, Chris Baldwin added 11 and C.J. Anderson pitched in with 10, a total of five double-digit scorers, a stark contrast from last week’s win over Providence when Pipkins dropped 30 to dominate the scoring.

“I think with how we play,” McCall said, “with the floor spaced—through scouting, teams are going to try to take [Pipkins] away and it’s going to open things up, our offense is predicated on ball movement and player movement and driving and paint touches. [Pipkins] does such a great job of finding guys and [Anderson] is such an unselfish player, we had good balance tonight and we have to continue to do that.”

The Minutemen got off to a dream start, opening the game on a 24-7 run that put them firmly in control, on the back of some hot three-point shooting from all-comers.

Luwane Pipkins and Carl Pierre had 12 points each at the half, as Pipkins went 2-3 from deep while Pierre knocked down all four of his attempts. Forward Chris Baldwin even chipped with a pair of triples in the first half, as the Minutemen jumped out to a 19-point lead at the break.

The energy in the Mullins Center was immense through the first half. When Pierre hit back-to-back threes to cap off that 24-7 run—with a big rejection from Rashaan Holloway in between—the home crowd was as loud as its been all season.

After taking a 43-24 lead into the half, UMass lost some momentum as it ran into foul trouble early on. After totaling just four fouls in the first half, the Minutemen picked up 14 in the final 20 minutes, including three from Holloway in the first couple of minutes. The Bulldogs quickly cut the 19-point lead to 12 just two and a half minutes in.

“It was really teetering there in the second half,” said McCall. “The flow of the game got changed a little bit there, there were a lot of fouls being called, and I was a little bit concerned just how would we respond, and I thought we showed great resilience. I didn’t think we panicked, and we just kept playing the game and we were able to find a way to win.”

With 7:24 to play in the second half, Pipkins found himself isolated with Georgia’s star forward Yante Maten at the top of the key at the end of the shot clock. He sized up his man, hit Maten with a lethal right-to-left crossover, and drilled a three fading to his left to put UMass up 63-47. With an electric crowd behind him and the energy back in the building, he fist-pumped his way back down the court, the game back in control and the Bulldogs all but finished.

Georgia got as close as eight in the final seconds, but the Minutemen held on for their highest-quality victory of the winter.

With two huge wins over Georgia and Providence under their belts, the Minutemen now turn to Georgia State on Wednesday, their penultimate game of the non-conference slate.

UMass will be riding a wave of confidence after a pair of recent high points.

“For us, it’s just about getting better every day,” McCall said, “and that starts with enjoying this win, and getting back to work tomorrow.”

Tip-off on Wednesday is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center.

Amin Touri can be reached at [email protected] and followed on twitter @Amin_Touri.