Sanzo: UMass’ game vs. St. Louis is a sign of what it is without its grit

By Philip Sanzo

(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)

With the Massachusetts basketball team honoring Marcus Camby on Alumni Day, the Mullins Center filled with fans reliving the days of UMass’ past.

After the Minutemen’s lackluster performance against St. Louis, Saturday afternoon, those same fans left wishing to go back to 1996.

UMass seemed out of it, the fans seemed out of it and before you knew it, the Minutemen were trailing by 20 with only a couple of minutes left in the game.

It was at that point that fans, many of which wore No. 21 throwback UMass jerseys, left their seats and headed for the exit.

As fans departed the energy level remained the same- little to none.

In the fans’ defense though, the Minutemen weren’t giving them much to go crazy over. UMass’ 47 points was the lowest it had scored all year. And playing against a SLU team that came into Amherst with a 9-10 record, one would expect the Minutemen to score much more.

Pipkins came close to tying his game average with 17 points but was only 3-of-9 from beyond-the-arc, uncharacteristic of him as of late.

The real back-breaker though came in the paint. Not only were the Minutemen outscored 44-22, but they only managed 25 rebounds, 12 less than the Billikens.

Matt McCall described it as a lack of physicality.

“I was concerned yesterday at practice, I was concerned this morning at shoot around—part of the reason we did shoot around this morning was because I thought our disposition was really really poor,” McCall said. “We wanted no part of the physicality in the game. It was the most physical game we played all year, we ran from it, we didn’t embrace it and that’s all we talked about going into the game was embracing that physicality.”

The Minutemen lacked arguably their best trait, effort and interest.

Sitting at 10-10, this UMass squad will most likely not go to the NCAA Tournament—but with only eight scholarship players active, that could be expected.

McCall was dealt a tough hand in his first season, but has handled it masterfully. A team that lacks in talent has already defeated the likes of Providence, Georgia and Dayton. Those games though were not won because UMass was the better team, they were won because UMass fought when they needed to fight.

“What we have to understand, and this is not a knock on our players, I’m not knocking these guys, every time we line up and play the other team has more in this league,” McCall said. “More talent, they do, that’s just the hand we’re dealt with right now. There is just more talent on the other bench than on our bench. More numbers, more talent. That’s again not knock on any player on our team.

“We can overcome that with the right mindset, with the disposition, with the hunger, with the willingness to compete. But if we don’t have those things, and once again it starts in practice, it starts in shoot around, we don’t have a shot.”

The Minutemen’s game vs. St. Louis showed a glimpse of what the Minutemen are without the grit.

They have La Salle on Wednesday followed by Fordham—a team they beat and a team they should beat—before another meeting with URI.

If the Minutemen’s performance vs. SLU becomes a trend, how this season will be remembered will take an ugly turn.

Philip Sanzo can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Philip_Sanzo.