Mixed bag for UMass men’s basketball in opening night win

Clergeot, Holloway impress against UMass Lowell


Photo by Caroline O'Connor

By Thomas Haines, Assistant Sports Editor

Sloppy defense and turnovers weren’t enough to stop the Massachusetts men’s basketball team Tuesday night, as the Minutemen held on for an 83-75 win over UMass Lowell on opening night.

UMass (1-0) struggled mightily on defense in the first half, giving up a number of open threes. Coming out of halftime with a three-point lead, the Minutemen tightened up on defense behind redshirt sophomore Keon Clergeot and freshman Sy Chatman, which was enough to slowly pull away from UMass Lowell (0-1).

“75 points is way too many, especially when they shoot 26 percent from the 3-point line but they shoot 40 percent from the floor,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “So I thought a lot of it was in transition, and when you get a 16 point lead, it’s seven, eight minutes to go, and you miss the front end of a one-and-one, it kind of deflates your team. And we’ve got to get past that and turn around and get a stop.”

Poor foul shooting also cost the Minutemen, who started out 5-for-13 from the line and finished 15-for-27. After opening up a big lead in the middle of the second half, a series of missed foul shots cost UMass the chance to put away the River Hawks, who cut the deficit to four with under three minutes to go.

“I’ve got to do a better job coaching foul shooting, because 15-for-27, that’s not good enough,” McCall said. “I felt like a couple times when we missed, we gave them opportunities to get out in transition, and our team trying to run around and get matched, or maybe consumed with missing the free throw.”

While Chatman’s defense improved as the game went on, UMass was a different team with Rashaan Holloway in at center. The fifth-year senior finished with 11 of the Minutemen’s 42 rebounds and six points, but dominated smaller UMass Lowell centers in the paint and sparked UMass whenever he came on the floor.

“There’s not many people like him, certainly that we face in our conference, but in all of college basketball,” UMass Lowell coach Pat Duquette said of Holloway. “He’s a really hard guard, and a really interesting dynamic for their team, because with him I think they’re one team and without him they seem to play a different style. You can’t key in too much on him because he’s not on the floor that many minutes, so you’ve got to focus on a different control or a different type of game that they play without him.”

The four transfers, playing their first game for UMass, all made a big difference. Curtis Cobb and Jonathan Laurent each finished with double-digit points, while Kieran Hayward tipped in a loose shot from Holloway for his first points with UMass and added what McCall described as a “calming presence”.

As is his style, Keon Clergeot was the opposite of a calming presence, revitalizing the Minutemen at the beginning of the second half with his unique ferocious energy. While his biggest contribution was shoring up the UMass defense, he also added five quick points with eight minutes to go and staked the Minutemen to a 14-point lead.

“I thought Keon Clergeot’s energy in the second half really elevated our team, and that’s what we need out of him,” McCall said. “Defensively especially he was getting skinny, trying to get over on pick-and-rolls and guys weren’t able to get by him. We’ve really got to talk to him about embracing that role for us, because I think at the end of the day his energy really, really helped us in the second half.”

Both Luwane Pipkins and Carl Pierre turned in strong games as expected, finishing with 19 and 21 points respectively. The two of them each hit three 3-pointers and accounted for all UMass’ 3-point scoring on the night.

Following the win, UMass faces a quick turnaround before returning to action Friday against New Hampshire.

“Happy we won,” McCall said. “No question about it, but we’ve got to get some of these things corrected heading into Friday.”

Thomas Haines can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @thainessports.