Pipkins’ 36 can’t save mistake-laden UMass against Harvard

Minutemen fall at home Tuesday


(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

By Amin Touri, Sports Editor

In the end, another Luwane Pipkins classic wasn’t enough.

With Carl Pierre held scoreless and the rest of the Minutemen struggling to establish any rhythm, the junior guard took things into his own hands on Tuesday night, but a 36-point outburst couldn’t save UMass (2-1) from a home loss against Harvard (2-1).

Countless mistakes all over the floor killed the Minutemen on Friday, and a disappointed Matt McCall lamented the miscues post-game.

“They weren’t going to beat themselves, and every single mistake we made tonight, they capitalized on,” McCall said. “Late in the game we got extended defensively, we get beat backdoor, and-one. Blown pick and roll coverages, offensive rebounding — every single mistake we made, they capitalized on. And that’s what really good teams do, and that’s what veteran teams do.”

Despite Pipkins’ heroics — he finished 13-of-23 from the floor, and 4-of-8 from three, along with five assists, four steals and four rebounds — mistakes throughout the night, including two critical ones down the stretch, put the Minutemen in a hole that even their All-Conference guard couldn’t dig them out of.

Pipkins himself was the culprit with 2:34 remaining, as Crimson guard Christian Juzang slipped past him for a backdoor layup plus the foul. Juzang hit the free throw — he was 6-of-7 from the charity stripe — to give Harvard a 68-63 lead.

Two minutes later, as the Minutemen managed to cut the lead to one, Pipkins lost the ball on one end, but came flying back into the play to wrestle away a steal from Juzang — a split-second earlier, however, Harvard guard Justin Bassey had crashed into UMass forward Jonathan Laurent, and the latter was hit with a blocking foul. Bassey hit both to restore a three-point lead, and the Minutemen never quite recovered.

It wasn’t just the late fouls — UMass especially struggled to get stops in the first half, allowing 39 points as the Crimson shot 54.8 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from deep. After a solid defensive performance against UNH, the Minutemen looked as they did in the opener against UMass Lowell — late getting back in transition, struggling with rotations and allowing too many open looks.

“Luwane got extended there and got beat backdoor late in the game, and it turns into an and-one,” McCall said. “We’re late on a step-up, split-second, Jonathan tries to take a charge in a one-point game, you know. In the first half, I don’t know how many times we got the shot clock under 10 and didn’t get a stop. It was either blown by off the bounce, shot goes up and an offensive rebound — that’s where you really, really got to dig in, and find a way to get a stop, and we weren’t able to do that enough.”

McCall, Pipkins and Laurent were all in agreement — the Minutemen lacked urgency.

“Not much to talk about,” Pipkins said, despite his scoring exploits. “We lost. Didn’t play hard enough. They played harder than us, they wanted it more, obviously, and we just laid down and gave it to them.”

“I just felt like we came into the game with a lack of awareness out of the gates,” Laurent added. “We gave them a good lead, so that pretty much set the tone for the game, and we picked it up too late. Like [Pipkins] said, we just laid down and took it.”

Pipkins was the sole bright spot for a UMass team that struggled on both sides of the ball on Tuesday. While the Crimson found open looks time and time again offensively, they struggled to contain Pipkins on the other end.

“I don’t know how you guard him,” said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker. “[Pipkins] was just sensational with his ability to get to the basket, create for others, and certainly his ability to score from deep. I thought we did a decent job on the rest of the guys. Certainly Pipkins is one of the best we’re going to see all year, he’s just tremendous with the ball.”

McCall, for his part, was unconcerned with the offense after Tuesday’s loss. As he’s said from the first open practices in mid-October: the problem is defensive urgency, and the lack thereof sank the Minutemen against Harvard.

“At some point you’ve got to sit down and take some pride and guard the ball,” McCall said. “That’s basketball 101.”

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