UMass men’s basketball looks to keep up momentum against Quinnipiac

After bouncing back from a slump, Minutemen have to make sure improvements stick

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By Thomas Haines, Assistant Sports Editor

Coming off arguably its strongest two-game stretch of the season, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team returns home to face Quinnipiac Wednesday night.

UMass (4-3) looks to carry forward the momentum from its trip to Las Vegas, where the Minutemen beat Southern Illinois and hung with No. 6 Nevada before earning the loss in the final minutes, playing their best basketball of the season in the process.

“The Southern Illinois game, we were ready to go from the tip,” coach Matt McCall said. “Our bench was into it, our staff was into it, our players. Everybody was ready to go, and our energy level was better than theirs. That’s huge. It’s got to be that way every single night.”

While UMass’ defense has been its Achilles’ heel in the early going, McCall cited improvements in moving the ball as a crucial part of the recent uptick.

“I think in our four wins we’re averaging 201 passes per game,” McCall said. “In our three losses, we’re averaging 150. When you saw us play on offense against Nevada and against Southern Illinois, the ball was moving. I credit Luwane [Pipkins] a lot too, he’s doing a tremendous job of getting in the line and not forcing things and finding his teammates.”

After three encouraging performances, UMass seems to have shaken a brief two-game slump against Harvard and Howard, both games the Minutemen were expected to win.

UMass will be the favorite heading into Wednesday’s game, but it did endure a 68-66 loss to Quinnipiac last November after coming out flat in the beginning of the first half.

“They came out ready to play,” fifth-year senior Rashaan Holloway said. “We didn’t really come out to play, we came out too relaxed and they surprised us. We had to make a late-game run to try to win the game, and it was too late.”

This season, UMass has started slow in a couple games, most notably Howard, where the Minutemen fell behind by 10 in under four minutes.

“We’re a much bigger team,” Holloway said, “[but] we’ve got to come in focused.”

UMass should have the edge in size and athleticism, but Quinnipiac has several talented players. Stretching back to last season, guard Cameron Young has now scored double-digit points in his last 31 games, while sophomore Jacob Rigoni and freshman Tyrese Williams each had big games in the Bobcats’ current two-game winning streak.

Depth, on the other hand, will favor the Minutemen. Only eight players have received minutes for Quinnipiac this season, as the Bobcats have battled injuries.

“They’ve got a terrific player in Young,” McCall said. “They’ve got a couple guys that are banged up and been hurt, not sure if they’re going to play. Essentially two starters, not sure if they’re going to play or not. But they space you out, they cause you a lot of problems, they’ve got shooting all over the floor. Know he’s doing that 1-2-1-1 press that they ran at Villanova. So they’re going to come in here, they’re going to play extremely hard. They’re 2-2 on the year, and one of their losses is to Villanova. So it’ll be a great challenge for us.”

Wednesday’s game is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center.

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