Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Small-ball lineup sparks UMass men’s basketball comeback over Saint Joseph’s

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(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)

With his team down double-digits and the Mullins Center all but dead, Matt McCall gambled on a five-guard lineup on Sunday, and the results were superb.

Doubling-down on his decision to run with all guards against La Salle on Wednesday, McCall threw out sophomore Luwane Pipkins, walk-on Rayshawn Miller, redshirt freshman Unique McLean, freshman Carl Pierre, and senior C.J. Anderson in crunch-time against Saint Joseph’s.

The five combined to spark a 15-3 second-half run that led the Massachusetts men’s basketball team to another dramatic comeback, this time a 72-69 win over St. Joe’s.

“We went to a small lineup there late, I thought it was a great lineup for us,” McCall said. “St. Joe’s doesn’t run a lot of post-up actions, so I knew that our guards would be okay playing on the perimeter defensively, and give our guys a lot of credit, coming down the stretch there I thought we had two terrific defensive possessions, late in the game.”

The small-ball lineup, a group of guards that could all switch every screen, drive to the lane and hit shots when needed, single-handedly erased a double-digit deficit and brought a previously lifeless Mullins crowd to a thundering apex.

“Everyone contributed,” McCall said. “I think we went on a run there that went from down five to up five. I think Ray scored, I think C.J. scored a basket, Carl hit a basket, the only person in that sequence that didn’t score was Pip. I thought that small lineup was really, really effective for us.”

The key sequence began with just over seven minutes to play, and the Minutemen down 56-49. Pierre hit a corner triple to kick things off. A stop and a McLean board led to an Anderson layup on the other end, before Anderson slashed to the rim again on the next possession to cut the lead to just three.

“They were still playing the two bigs down there, it was my chance to just get down the lane,” Anderson said. “If you can’t get to the rim and score, find a teammate.”

Another stop led to a wide-open look for Miller, who drilled a catch-and-shoot rhythm three to tie things up at 59-59, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Anderson then found McLean underneath on the next possession to give UMass it’s first lead since the opening minute of the first half.

The Minutemen made yet another stop, and Pipkins blew by his man on the other end, kicking the ball back out to a wide-open Pierre on the wing, and the small-ball strafing was complete—Pierre nailed his fifth three-pointer of the day, and the Mullins Center erupted as UMass took a 64-59 lead that it would not relinquish.

The Minutemen looked like they were having the time of their lives on the floor, as the five-minute period of dominance flipped the game on its head.

“Of course [we were having fun], you saw us out there,” Anderson said. “That’s why I love our team, it doesn’t matter who’s scoring. When you see a guy knock down a shot, you can just look at our reactions. Everybody out there’s just hyped, enjoying the game, loving that each other’s scoring and playing good basketball, seeing our crowd and fans into it as well, it really embraces us and makes us keep working.”

The Hawks stayed with two bigs—Taylor Funk and Anthony Longpre—and their inability to adjust, and generally poor defense down the stretch, ultimately proved to be their downfall.

“We played four guards ourselves,” said St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli, “but our guards didn’t do a good enough job guarding their men. I don’t think our communication was very good, and they just drove the ball. No hiding it, we had slow feet, but you have to have more in your ticker than that.”

In the end, the five combined for 70 of the team’s 72 points on the evening, shooting a combined 43.5 percent from three. Pipkins led the way with 27 points, Pierre and Anderson reached double digits with 17 and 12 respectively, while McLean and Miller chipped in with eight and six apiece.

“It really helped us a lot,” Anderson said, “because playing that five-guard lineup, everybody’s moving, everybody can knock down open jumpers, and everyone can drive, so it really worked tonight.”

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

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