UMass looks to take care of business against Fairleigh Dickinson

Holloway to face off against younger brother for first time

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UMass looks to take care of business against Fairleigh Dickinson

By Thomas Haines, Collegian Staff

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Coming off an eight-day layoff, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team looks to avoid a potential trap game against Fairleigh Dickinson Friday afternoon.

UMass (6-5) has had an up-and-down season, with impressive wins over Providence and Southern Illinois offset by disappointing losses to Harvard, Howard, and Temple. The closest comparison to Fairleigh Dickinson (5-5) is Howard, another smaller program with strong guard play that pounced on a sluggish UMass effort back in November.

Eight days after a 65-63 loss to Temple and with another eight-day layoff coming up after the Fairleigh Dickinson game, coach Matt McCall is on alert for another flat showing on Friday.

“I think these games, you always have a high, high level of concern about complacency,” McCall said. “It’s the last game before Christmas break, you can turn around and get to leave after the game, but the bottom line is, we’re not going anywhere until after that game is over. So we have to fight complacency and understand that this is about competing for 40 minutes.”

UMass has had several underwhelming outings this year, most recently losing close against Temple after squandering a 10-point halftime lead.

“We beat ourselves in that game,” junior Luwane Pipkins said. “We turned the ball over multiple times in a row. They came back and they were at home, they ended up getting the momentum and running away with the W. So basically, we did ourselves in there.”

The Temple loss is a reminder of the season’s inconsistencies for the Minutemen, who have far more talent than they did a season ago but have struggled to put it all together.

“I think we’re a little bit behind [where I expected],” McCall said. “Calling it like it is. Obviously we have an enormous amount of new guys still trying to figure each other out, still trying to understand all the things that are important, that going into winning. We’re moving in that direction, and the good thing is after Christmas, we have a lot of time to grow, to get better, to prepare.”

Fairleigh Dickinson lost to Holy Cross, which beat UMass earlier in the year, to go along with a 10-point loss to Providence. Coming out of the Northeast Conference, the Knights have three players – senior Darnell Edge, sophomore Xzavier Malone-Key and sophomore Jahlil Jenkins – averaging double-digit points.

Right behind them is senior Mike Holloway Jr., a 6-foot-8, 245 pound forward averaging 9.7 points per game and the younger brother of UMass center Rashaan Holloway.

“It’s never really happened before,” Rashaan Holloway said. “It probably happened one time in our lives before that we played against each other. When we found out the game was happening, we got a lot of family coming up, driving up from Jersey. So it’s exciting.”

Rashaan injured his ankle in the first half of the Temple game and didn’t return, but both he and McCall said he would be full go against Fairleigh Dickinson.

“I just came down wrong,” Holloway said. “I landed on the side of my foot instead of the bottom of my feet, and everything just collapsed on top of it. But it took me seven days to get back. I just started running [Wednesday], I was running for the first time. So it was good to be back out there [in practice], fully healthy.”

The Fairleigh Dickinson game is the second to last of the non-conference slate, with UMass playing Georgia at the end of December before shifting into Atlantic 10 play. By the Georgia game, center Djery Baptiste will be eligible, giving the Minutemen another option for the rotation.

But as UMass learned against Howard, it can’t afford to look past its next opponent.

“I think the biggest challenge is fighting complacency,” McCall said. “Understanding that those guys are going to come in with a chip on their shoulder and compete. One of the harder teams I’ve seen all year on film with how hard they play. They press, play zone, they play man, they’ll junk it up, they’ll play a whole bunch of different defenses. They’re going to play really, really hard, and we can’t allow them to play harder than us, that’s the bottom line. If we do, it could be a really long night for us.”

Tipoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at the Mullins Center.

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