Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Second-half struggles sink UMass against Holy Cross

Crusaders pull away late

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Second-half struggles sink UMass against Holy Cross

(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

By Amin Touri, Sports Editor

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For a while, it was going quite well.

A 41-39 halftime lead is far from dominant, but five quick points to open the second-half put the Massachusetts men’s basketball team up seven over Holy Cross, and the Minutemen (5-4) were playing good basketball.

Throughout the first half UMass was handling Bill Carmody’s patented Princeton offense quite well, limiting open looks and reading back-cuts, while taking good shots and finding gaps in the Crusaders’ zone on the other end. Behind 13 first-half points from Jonathan Laurent, the Minutemen were rolling.

But the Crusaders kept coming.

Once the constant motion and the back-cuts started creating more and more opportunities, Holy Cross slowly came back into the game. Jacob Grandison found his rhythm, Patrick Benzan and Matt Faw started getting open layups, and Jehyve Floyd really took over from there.

Midway through the second half, two Grandison free throws put the Crusaders ahead for the first time since the opening seconds, and the teams traded baskets for a few possessions before a Rashaan Holloway dunk and a Pipkins fallaway tied it at 62-62. From there, the Crusaders went on a game-defining 9-0 run, taking control and never relenting.

It naturally started with a Floyd layup, before Curtis Cobb missed a jumper and Floyd went to the basket again for two more. Pipkins missed a layup, and Holloway found himself defending Caleb Green, the Crusader’s crafty little point guard — a matchup nightmare for the big man — and Green blew past him and kicked out to a wide-open Faw for a triple.

Carl Pierre — who finished 0-for-5 from the field — missed another 3-pointer, and Butler hit a layup in transition to make it 71-62 Holy Cross, its largest lead of the night, and the Minutemen never recovered.

“We took the lead there, we stretched it out, we go up nine, and we started the half with three stops in a row, which was great,” McCall said. “We were stopping, we were scoring, [then] Carl missed a wide-open three in the corner, Curtis missed a wide-open three — we were getting good looks, we were playing the right way.

“They’re just so good at capitalizing, like if you miss a three in transition, coming down, chewing up 24-25 seconds, and then bang, it’s a back-cut, it’s a layup, it’s a foul because you’re out of position because you reach on a guy because of how fast they run their stuff.”

That three-minute stretch, combined with some stagnant offense and an endless parade of Crusader charity-stripe trips, was everything.

“I thought our rotations were bad, I thought we were sloppy in scrambles, we keep overhelping on drives or post feeds, and we give up threes on the back side. And again, it’s the second game in a row where a team has gotten back into the game strictly because of the free throw line. They shoot 16 free throws in the second half — lack of discipline, reaching, putting our hands on guys, we’ve got to get a whole lot better there.”

Holloway had the better of the low-post showdown in the first half, but Floyd went to work in the final 20 minutes. Taking it in the post from the right side and driving left at will, Floyd kept creating space and forcing Holloway to move laterally before banking him layup after layup, finishing with 10 second-half points on a perfect 6-for-6 from the floor.

“I mean, how many times are we just going to let Floyd catch it in the post and get to his left hand?” McCall wondered aloud postgame. “At some point time, as a player, we have to understand, okay, he’s going left every single time. Maybe I should sit on his left hand a little bit, make him even just dribble a bit with his right hand. Finally late in the game we trapped him a couple times, [but] he was able to just wheel and deal too much.”

For Carmody, feeding Floyd was intentional.

“We couldn’t guard the big guy, Holloway, and we just said we have to start throwing it down to our center,” Carmody said, “because that guy’s not thinking about anything else except scoring.”

“We just decided to start throwing the ball down to Floyd, and he was productive down there in the last 8-10 minutes I’d say.”

In the end, that poor stretch was just the low point in an overall poor defensive second half, as the Minutemen began to lose focus and get beat, miss rotations and lose their men on an endless string of ball screens and back cuts.

“You have to be so alert and so on edge, and as a coach I have to do a much better job of getting this team to playing to an identity,” McCall said. “I don’t think they know their identity. And there’s so many different factors and so many different things that go into winning.

“I’ve got to do a much better job of holding our guys accountable to being disciplined on the defensive end of the floor, to getting our guys understanding everything that goes into and impacting winning. We’re a young, inexperienced basketball team that needs to get a lot better.”

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

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