UMass men’s basketball preparing for unique test from Holy Cross

Minutemen coming off strong defensive showing against Quinnipiac

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(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)

By Thomas Haines, Assistant Sports Editor

After arguably its best defensive showing of the season, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team had six days to prepare for Tuesday’s game against Holy Cross.

UMass (5-3) held Quinnipiac to just 62 points last Wednesday, the fewest points the Minutemen have allowed so far this year, and overcame a sloppy offense to secure the win. While Holy Cross is averaging just 66.2 points per game, the Crusaders have a deliberate style of play that will challenge the UMass defense, which is still rounding into form.

“I think they’re one of the last teams in the country in possessions per game, and that’s because they make teams chew clock on offense,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “They chew teams up when they’re on defense, and teams have to use clock a lot when they’re on defense. So, it’s a difficult style, not like anyone we’ll probably see the rest of the year.”

Led by sophomore guards Jacob Grandison and Austin Butler, Holy Cross has played well against tough competition, leading against then-No. 19 Michigan, Harvard and Providence before falling in the final minutes.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a test, but it’s a good offense that we’ve got to guard,” UMass guard Luwane Pipkins said. “But like I said, I don’t think it’s a test. We just got to come in and defend. Do what we know best and play the game the way we know how to play it.”

While the Crusaders specialize on grinding out the clock, they have the speed to take advantage of UMass’ mistakes.

“You’ve got to throw your regular principles out for a game like this,” McCall said. “They’re so fast, they run it so well. They kind of lull you and lull you and lull you, and then bang, it’s a back cut. Or it’s a flash screen, or it’s a down screen, or it’s a pick-and-roll. You can’t play the game with your normal defensive principles, you’ve got to be willing to adjust. You cannot get extended at all. The moment you get extended, it’s a back cut.”

The one opponent that UMass and Holy Cross have in common is Harvard, which beat both by a narrow margin. Unlike the Minutemen, which struggled throughout the game against Harvard, the Crusaders led the Crimson until late in the second half.

“Is what it is,” Pipkins said. “I don’t really look at the film like that, I don’t really pay attention to that, just the game plan. I look at the team that we’re playing, not the team they played last game. Just come in, get guys motivated and do what we got to do.”

Last Wednesday, UMass limited Quinnipiac to just 21 points in the first half and forced 15 turnovers by game’s end, but poor shooting from several key players kept the Minutemen from pulling away.

Since an early slump, UMass has won three out of its last four behind a more coherent defense and improved rebounding. The Minutemen are averaging 38 rebounds per game over their last four games, as opposed to 34 over their first four games.

“Just kill them on the boards,” Pipkins said. “Box them out, push the ball when we’ve got it, and just kill them on the boards. That’s all we’ve got to do.”

After starting the season with eight games in 22 days, the Minutemen had six days to recover and prepare for Holy Cross. The rest allowed everyone to heal up, including freshman center Sy Chatman, who came up limping against Quinnipiac after stepping on the ball.

“It was definitely a blessing, we needed that break,” Pipkins said. “We had two days off, had a light practice after that. Good to get our bodies back in shape, back healthy, and we’ve just got to come out in tomorrow’s game and take advantage of that.”

Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center.

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