Carl Pierre shines in UMass’ season opener

Sophomore drops 21 on Tuesday


(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

By Amin Touri, Sports Editor

Just 243 days after the end of his freshman campaign, Carl Pierre picked up right where he left off.

Taking the floor as a sophomore for the first time on Tuesday, Pierre dropped 21 points in the season opener, leading the Massachusetts men’s basketball team to an 83-75 win over UMass Lowell.

Pierre was his usual self from behind the arc, hitting his first two triples and finishing 3-of-7, but the big difference came off the bounce. Pierre was far more aggressive taking defenders off the dribble than he was a year ago, and it was extremely effective, as he finished 9-of-16 from the field.

“I just think I was more aggressive overall,” Pierre said. “Hunting for shots, whether it was raising behind screens or looking for my shots off the bounce, just increasing my aggression.”

Coach Matt McCall was unhappy with the team’s utilization of their sweet-shooting guard in last week’s exhibition against Westfield State, as Pierre only finished with four shots, a number he quadrupled on Tuesday.

Even still, McCall thought Pierre could’ve had even more opportunities against UMass Lowell.

“To be honest with you I thought he should’ve shot 23,” McCall said. “I thought we missed him a bunch. I thought that he was on fill-behinds on pick and rolls and we missed him, Samba [Diallo] drove baseline one time, he got fouled, but [Pierre] was wide open in the corner, we missed him there.

“Shooting’s not equal opportunity, we’ve talked about that, and he needs to shoot.”

Pierre broke the seal on his 2018-19 season four minutes into the first half, when he took a pass from Jonathan Laurent and buried a catch-and-shoot three, his bread and butter.

“Seeing that first shot fall [was nice], I mean I was going to put them up regardless,” Pierre said. “Just a testament to the work that I put in, but seeing that first one fall definitely felt good.”

Pierre hit another from deep two minutes later, but started going to the basket late in the second half. With 6:52 to go he took another dish from Laurent for a fast-break layup. He caught the ball on the wing two minutes later, and went left for another driving layup. A minute after that, Pierre hit a pull-up jumper late in the clock, and went into the half with 12 points.

“I worked a lot over the summer and during this fall,” Pierre said, “before every practice, putting up those kinds of shots off the dribble that you saw in the game today, and it felt good to see them go down.”

After opening the second half with another three, Pierre went left twice more for a pair of floaters, and when a corner three missed short, he came flying in to grab the rebound and dropped in the putback to give him 21 for the game.

McCall was impressed with his sophomore’s aggressiveness, but praised his leadership down the stretch as well as the Minutemen needed a couple late stops to put the game away.

“He was aggressive, which I loved, and he’s not just a catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter,” McCall said. “I mean he made a pull-up off the bounce from a step back late in the clock which was a great shot.

“But you know what you’re going to get out of him and Luwane [Pipkins], these guys have played in a lot of college games together. And you could see it at the end of the game, those two talking to each other about, ‘hey, we need to get a stop. Me and you, let’s be the loudest voices out here, let’s do this.’”

UMass did enough to win, even if in sloppy and unconvincing fashion, but McCall continued to tout Pierre as one of the program’s future greats, a sentiment he’s expressed several times in recent weeks.

“Listen, nobody works harder than him,” McCall said. “It’s everything, not just shots. His game is evolving, and I meant what I said. There’s been some really good players that’ve come through here, taking nothing away from any of these guys, I mean, really, really good players. I think he’s going to be one of the best guards when his career is all said and done, when you walk around our facility you see that ring of honor up there, some of the best players to ever play here — he’s going to be up there.

“I said it the other day, I’m so glad he’s here.”

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