UMass men’s basketball suffers first loss of the season

Harvard tops the Minutemen 74-71

By Thomas Johnston, Assistant Sports Editor

For the second straight year,the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s meeting with Harvard was decided on the final possession. Both times the Minutemen (2-1) have fallen in heart-breaking fashion, this one by a score of 74-71.

The Crimson (2-1) took a double-digit lead early in the second half, but UMass stormed back thanks to an explosive scoring performance by Luwane Pipkins, who would finish with a game-high 36.

The Minutemen cut the Harvard lead to one with 39 seconds left after a pair of Pipkins free throws, and the Crimson would chew as much clock as they could on the following possession. With the shot clock winding down, guard Justin Bassey got to the rim where he collided with Jonathan Laurent, and the referee issued a block, giving Bassey two free throws.

The junior made both and UMass opted to go for the easy two instead of a potential game tying three, with Pipkins cutting the Harvard lead back down to one with three seconds left. The Minutemen were unable to get a steal on the following inbound, fouling Christian Juzang to send him to the line for two where he would drain both to make it a three-point game again.

Pipkins was able to get off a shot from near half court at the buzzer, but it was just long off the back of the rim.

“They wanted it more,” Pipkins said. “We didn’t score. If you’re going to win, you need to score the ball. The name of the game is buckets. We have to score to win, you have to defend and we did none of that tonight. The results showed.”

Center Chris Lewis led the Crimson with 16 points, going 8-11 from the floor. Danilo Djuricic and Juzang joined him in double figures with 13 and 10, respectively.

While Pipkins had the hot hand most of the way for the Minutemen, he didn’t receive much scoring help from the rest of his teammates. Laurent was the only other UMass player in double-figures with 11, while Carl Pierre did not record a point for the first time in his college career, going 0-of-5 from the field.

UMass coach Matt McCall felt that Harvard had a good game plan to take Pierre out of the game, but they still need to find ways to get one of their best scorers involved on the offensive end.

“We’ve got to do a better job of finding him,” McCall said. “Teams are going to hone in on him and try to take him out of stuff. There’s also a level of when he’s open, we have to know where he is and find him. It wasn’t for a lack of trying.”

One area of the game McCall was not pleased with was his teams transition defense. The Crimson were able to push the ball off a miss and get easy looks far too many times, including a three late in the game that extended the Harvard lead.

“I don’t know how many points we gave up in transition,” McCall said, “but I would say four or five times guys could have grabbed a box of popcorn, ate it and shot a three. That’s how open they were.”

This loss was tough for the Minutemen, as they had an opportunity to knock off a Harvard team that was playing without two of its best players, reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Seth Towns and Bryce Aiken.

Even without their go-to guys, the Crimson were still able to shoot 48.3 percent from the field, including 54.8 percent in the first half alone.

“Close games are always hard to swallow,” Laurent said. “We didn’t put the ball in the hole efficiently enough and we didn’t play any defense. We know how to defend but 74 points without their best player, that’s tough to swallow. We definitely have to go back and work on that.”

UMass will look to get back into the win column Friday night, taking on Howard at the Mullins Center.

Thomas Johnston can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @TJ__Johnston.