Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Pierre’s hot afternoon leads UMass to first conference win

Sophomore hits six threes to lift Minutemen

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Pierre’s hot afternoon leads UMass to first conference win

Judith Gibson-Okunieff

Judith Gibson-Okunieff

Judith Gibson-Okunieff

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Consider the slump busted.

With the Massachusetts men’s basketball team reaching now-or-never territory after an 0-6 start in Atlantic 10 play, Carl Pierre produced another timely 3-point outburst, hitting six threes en route to a season-high 22-point night and a 77-70 UMass win over Rhode Island.

With Luwane Pipkins struggling from the floor — the junior finished 2-of-14 from the field — the scoring load was left for the sophomore, and did he ever pick it up.

“I’ve been staying confident throughout the whole season, the entire conference season,” Pierre said. “Staying to my work ethic, staying in the gym, and trying to stay confident — tonight I think I finally broke through, and it showed.”

After missing his first 3-pointer of the night, Pierre rose up and drilled one with the Minutemen (8-12, 1-6 A-10) trailing 18-14 to kickstart a 17-0 run that put the Minutemen firmly in control before halftime.

Pierre’s first three cut the Rhody lead to one, and was followed by a Djery Baptiste jump hook and seven straight points from Jonathan Laurent. Pierre hit another from deep to extend the run to 15, before he found Rashaan Holloway underneath to put UMass up 31-18 with just over two minutes in the half.

In the second half, Pierre only got hotter. He spent the final 20 minutes answering every Ram bucket, and kept UMass firmly ahead whenever things got close.

After URI got within four early in the second half, Pierre caught a kickout from Pipkins and hit again to restore a seven-point lead, before getting a floater to go on the following possession.

Christion Thompson’s layup brought URI within three, before a driving Clergeot found a backpedaling Pierre, who stepped back and hit a corner three to swing the momentum once again.

URI’s Tyrese Martin hit a three with 6:55 to play to cut the lead to four, but Pipkins found — who else — Pierre for his fifth triple of the game, to bring one of the season’s liveliest Mullins crowds back to its feet once again.

“I think it starts in transition, slicing the floor,” Coach Matt McCall said. “That’s where [Pierre]’s great. I thought a big play too was when Luwane got down the lane, he kept his dribble and got it out to [Pierre] — Carl shot the ball today with a tremendous amount of confidence, I thought he’s been locked in mentally.

“Everyone wants to talk about his shooting percentages, this that and the other, guy was still shooting 38, 39 percent, I was happy for him. But he’s about all the right things, and being a part of this program means something to him. Another young guy who’s going to be here for the next two or three years, and this league’s going to be fine.”

One more Pierre 3-pointer, this one fading hard to his left, gave the sophomore 20 points on the day and extended the UMass lead to 10, just about putting things out of reach with just a couple minutes to play.

“He shot the ball very well today,” said URI coach David Cox. “We talked about it, saw him on film, but he shot the cover off the ball today.

“Pierre killed us.”

Another Martin three did cut things back to single digits late, but Pierre calmly sank two free throws to make it 73-63 with 60 seconds to play, and the Rams never found a way back.

“He shoots the s— out of the ball, mind my language,” said forward Jonathan Laurent. “He’s in practice, he’s ripping it up, it was only a matter of time that he was going to break out.”

It was Pierre’s finest performance of this season — save perhaps for his torrid night in Providence in December — and was exactly what the Minutemen needed to start getting things back on track. He finished with 22 points on 6-of-9 shooting from three, and willed UMass to its first A-10 win.

“Listen, Carl, as a sophomore — we’ve put a lot on his plate, not just from a basketball standpoint but from a leadership standpoint,” McCall said. “He’s one of our leaders. That’s a lot of weight to carry as sophomore in college. And I think that sometimes he wants to win so much, he gets consumed with other guys as he’s a leader on our team, and I felt like the last two days in practice he’s been a lot more vocal, and it was almost like there was this weight lifted off his shoulder a little bit with him being more vocal on the floor, because he’s earned that right. But that’s a lot to deal with as a sophomore in college, and I thought today he played the game clear-headed and clear-hearted.

“Today it was almost like he played the game mentally free, and played it the right way, and the ball went in.”

With the proverbial monkey off their backs, the Minutemen head to Philadelphia for a pair of road contests, taking on La Salle Wednesday before facing Saint Joseph’s on Saturday.

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

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