UMass looks to stay hot at Temple

Owls are 7-2 on the season

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UMass looks to stay hot at Temple

Katherine Mayo/Collegian

Katherine Mayo/Collegian

Katherine Mayo/Collegian

Katherine Mayo/Collegian

By Thomas Johnston, Assistant Sports Editor

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Following a thrilling comeback victory over Providence, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team turns its attention to Temple, taking on the Owls (7-2) in Philadelphia Wednesday night.

The Minutemen (6-4) trailed by as much as 20 points in the first half against the Friars on Friday, but the team rallied in the second half with Luwane Pipkins making the game-winning layup.

While the Minutemen were riding high on the win, they were back to work the next day preparing for a dangerous Temple squad.

“When we got back on Saturday, we practiced,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “Nobody came in sulking or celebrating too much. They understood what was at stake. I thought we had a really good practice today.”

With a good week of practice, UMass hopes it can work out the consistency problems that have plagued the team throughout the early course of the season. While the Minutemen were able to play a great second half to comeback against Providence, there have been stretches like the first half where they can’t get stops defensively or put the ball in the basket.

The focus is now on putting together a complete 40 minutes, which redshirt junior Curtis Cobb believes starts in practice.

“I think it’s just working out every day,” Cobb said. “Especially at practice. Just working on it everyday so it becomes a habit and translates to the games.”

The inconsistency in the early part of the season may be due with the fact that this is a brand new team, and there will be lumps and bruises along the way in McCall’s second year leading the program.

“We’re a young basketball program that has to learn and grow,” McCall said. “We’re in year two. I have to as a coach keep that in perspective at times and understand where we’re at. We have talent, that’s not an issue. We have to continue to get better defensively and hold our guys accountable for certain things on the defensive end of the floor and continue to grow and get better.

“I think that this team in February can be playing really, really good basketball and I think Friday night was a step in that direction.”

The win over the Friars saw UMass’ second and third scoring options step up when the game mattered most. Sophomore Carl Pierre went on a 9-1 scoring run on his own, hitting three three-pointers in a 65-second span to help jumpstart the comeback, while Cobb finished the game with 16 points on 7-14 shooting.

With Pipkins being the team’s go-to scorer and Pierre being the three-point specialist, Cobb has found a role being a jack-of-all-trades scorer, getting to the rim, shooting mid-range jumpers and taking threes. He feels this has helped opened things up for the other scorers on the team.

“Helps a lot just complementing those guys,” Cobb said. “[Pipkins] can really score and Carl can score a lot, but he’s better in catch and shoots so being able to balance those two out is important for our offense.”

The preparation for the Owls begins with their backcourt duo of Shizz Alston Jr. and Quinton Rose who lead the team in scoring, each averaging a shade under 17 points per game.

One of Temple’s weaknesses is their outside shooting. As a team, the Owls are shooting .299 percent from downtown, with Alston Jr. being the only true threat from outside.

The Minutemen will need to pack things in and defend the paint if they want to leave Philadelphia victorious.

“They’re terrific,” McCall said. “We have to shrink the floor. They have terrific guard play – those two guys are as good as any guards we’ve played this year. Probably would put them in the same category as the Nevada guards. It’s going to be a lot of isolations in the middle of the floor. We can’t do the same thing all game, we have to do different things and keep them off balance.”

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at the Liacouras Center.

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