Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s basketball escapes with opening round win over La Salle

Anderson’s 21 lifts UMass

By Amin Touri, Assistant Sports Editor

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WASHINGTON D.C.—With the season on the line, battling foul trouble and a talented opponent, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team pulled through.

After Luwane Pipkins hit 1-of-2 from the line with 4.5 seconds to go to put the Minutemen up 69-67, La Salle guard Pookie Powell got some separation with a quick behind-the-back move, but his pull-up three clanked off the back iron and UMass (13-19) escaped with the win in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament on Wednesday.

“I’m extremely proud of our team,” said UMass coach Matt McCall. “I thought it was a game where there was just an enormous amount of adversity, foul trouble, and our guys really, really battled through it.

With Pipkins limited to just 26 minutes after picking up his third foul before halftime—and his fourth with 13:22 to play—the Minutemen had to find production elsewhere, leading to senior C.J. Anderson stepping up with his career hanging in the balance.

Anderson finishing with 21 points and seven rebounds, hitting four triples and dishing four assists to keep himself and UMass alive another day.

After taking a 30-28 lead into the half, the Minutemen ran into serious foul trouble in the second half, as Pipkins, Anderson and Malik Hines all picked up their fourth fouls over the last 15 minutes, while Carl Pierre had to dial it back after taking his third. Pipkins was forced to the bench after his fourth, and with their leading scorer sitting on the sidelines, the Minutemen responded.

“Luwane was on the bench there for a large portion of the second half, and we found a way to score and get points,” McCall said. “I thought we were getting pretty stagnant there offensively in the first half, we were settling way too much, and C.J. did an unbelievable job in the second half getting down the lane and creating plays and creating offense for us.”

Sans Pipkins, UMass went on a 10-0 run to go up 57-52 with six minutes to play, allowing McCall to keep his star sophomore on the bench and away from a fifth personal. Anderson opened the blitz with a dime to freshman Khalea Turner-Morris and punctuated it with a floater and a huge 3-pointer to put the Minutemen back in control.

“I thought it was pretty evident during the game that C.J. Anderson didn’t want his college career to end,” said McCall. “He played with a vengeance today.”

La Salle wouldn’t go away quietly, as Tony Washington, Pookie Powell and B.J. Johnson combined for 56 points on Wednesday to keep the Explorers in the game. Washington was the most impressive of the three, finishing with 20 points and 12 rebounds, wreaking havoc down low all evening.

Their trio had plenty of success going to the rim, but the Explorers couldn’t get anything going from outside, shooting a paltry 6.3 percent from 3-point land, finishing 1-16. UMass came out in zone but frequently shifted to man, keeping La Salle out of any sort of rhythm.

“Coach McCall did a great job of just switching up the looks, and playing like a mind game I guess you could say,” Pierre said. “I think it definitely threw them off a little bit, sometimes they were expecting zone and we’d flip to man, I think it made it a little tough for them to get into their offensive rhythm and flow.”

After turning it over with 14 seconds to play, the Minutemen managed to get a huge stop on the other end as Powell’s layup wouldn’t go, and Pipkins went to the line with 4.5 seconds left up 68-67. Pipkins hit the second, and Powell had enough time to get a decent look to win it, but like nearly every other Explorer triple on the evening, it wouldn’t fall.

It was a frustrating evening for Pipkins, the conference’s second-leading scorer and Co-Most Improved Player this season, but McCall is confident that his head’s in the right place with UMass moving on.

“Pip wants to win as well,” McCall said. “He’s not consumed with shooting or scoring, he wants us to advance in this tournament.”

The Minutemen have a quick turnaround, slated to take on George Mason for the third time this season at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday. For Anderson, less than 24 hours stand between him and another chance to extend his collegiate career.

“It’s been a long, long journey so far, but we have so much left in our team, to keep winning, keep playing, keep battling,” Anderson said. “I just preach to the guys, be ready. We just celebrated, we just won a good game; that’s one. It’s time to get back to the board and get ready for the next one.”

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

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