Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s basketball storms back to beat Providence

Minutemen trailed by 20 late in the first half

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UMass men’s basketball storms back to beat Providence

(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

By Thomas Haines, Assistant Sports Editor

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Luwane Pipkins hit a layup with 10 seconds remaining, and Rashaan Holloway secured a rebound on the other end to close out a wild 79-78 win for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team.

After trailing by 20 late in the first half, UMass (6-4) stormed back behind a rejuvenated defense and a barrage of threes. The Minutemen regained the lead with 2:23 left, then went back and forth with Providence (7-3) until Pipkins’ layup in the final seconds sealed the win.

“The effort that was put out there on the floor in the second half was as best as this team has played since I’ve been the coach here,” coach Matt McCall said. “I was so proud of each one of these guys.”

For the first 30 minutes of the game, UMass struggled across the floor. Providence picked off Minutemen passes on three straight possessions midway through the first half, setting up a 10-0 run that allowed the Friars to pull away, going into halftime with an 18-point lead.

Turnovers – seven of them in the first half – stagnated the UMass offense early on, as the Friars converted those seven turnovers into 12 points. For much of the game, Pipkins was the only offensive threat, scoring 22 of the first 49 points for the Minutemen.

“I thought Luwane in the first half – he was dealing with a little bit of a sickness today, so he wasn’t feeling great – and as the game was going the wrong way, Pip, because of the competitor that he is, tried to get it back and do it himself,” McCall said. “I thought in the second half it was the opposite. He was slicing the floor, he was finding Carl [Pierre], he was finding Curtis [Cobb]. He did a great job finding those guys and getting them shots, really running our team.”

UMass flipped the switch on offense midway through the second half, when Carl Pierre attempted his first three of the night and drained it, then promptly hit two more to cut the lead to six.

“I think the whole second half, we had a higher level of energy and intensity than we had the first half,” Pierre said. “But that stretch really took us over the top. Once we hit that stretch, there was not a chance that we were going to lose that game. We’re going to do anything we need to do to win that game.”

Coming off a sloppy defensive performance and facing a dynamic offense, the shaky Minutemen defense was already in for a test, but it got harder just before the game, when it was revealed that Jonathan Laurent, one of the top defenders for the Minutemen, would not start due to a tweaked knee. Laurent ultimately didn’t play at all.

Despite the loss of Laurent, UMass put together a strong defensive showing down the stretch, with five steals and nine turnovers forced in the second half. After the Friars went 9-14 on 3-pointers in the first half, UMass limited them to just 1-3 from deep in the second.

“In the first half, we came out kind of flat, but after we spoke in the second half, we came out and just tried to chip away possession by possession,” Pierre said. “They were killing us on the three-point line in the first half, and I think we did a good job of stopping them from getting the wide-open looks that they were getting in the first half.”

Pipkins led the Minutemen with 26 points, followed by Curtis Cobb with 16 and Pierre with 15, all of which came on threes. Holloway finished with eight points and seven rebounds in 28 minutes, his season-high.

After beating a very good Providence team, which came in as 8.5-point favorites, UMass has momentum going into next Wednesday’s showdown with Temple.

“We’ve shown what we’re capable of,” McCall said. “Now we’ve got to carry that over every single night.”

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

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