Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s basketball looks to earn road win against La Salle

Explorers defeated the Minutemen 69-60 to open A-10 play

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UMass men’s basketball looks to earn road win against La Salle

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

By Thomas Johnston, Assistant Sports Editor

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After a rough start to conference play, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team found the win column Sunday, defeating Rhode Island.

It marked the first Atlantic 10 win of the season for the Minutemen (8-12, 1-6 A-10), who look to use the victory as a springboard as they head to Philadelphia Wednesday to take on La Salle.

Throughout his two seasons as coach, Matt McCall has struggled to get UMass to win on the road. A year ago, the Minutemen went 1-11 away from Amherst, and have just one road win this season in a thrilling victory over Providence.

While UMass hasn’t been able to come away with wins on the road, McCall is confident his team will turn it around, as many of their losses have been close, competitive games.

“There’s a different focus level you need on the road,” McCall said. “You have to take care of the basketball on the road. You have to take good shots on the road. I don’t think it’s anything different preparation wise. We had two shots in the air to beat Saint Louis and we stayed in Dayton, it’s a tie game with a minute to go there in one of the toughest places to play in the country.

“We’re right there. We’ve played — outside of VCU — better on the road. We just have to know there has to be a different focus level.”

In the win over the Rams, sophomore Carl Pierre, who had been going through a three-game shooting slump, snapped out of it and looked like the player who shot 47.2 percent from three a season ago, tossing in a season-high 22 points on 7-for-10 shooting.

With fellow guard and team leading scorer Luwane Pipkins struggling to find the bottom of the net in conference play, UMass will need Pierre to step up and be the scorer he is capable of being.

“I’m hoping it is,” Pierre said when asked if the 22-point outburst can get him back on track offensively. “I’ve been in the gym continuing to get my shots up, so I’m hoping it continues throughout the season.”

The Minutemen matched up with the Explorers (4-12, 2-4 A-10) earlier in the month, with La Salle coming away with a nine-point victory. It was a poor offensive showing for UMass, who shot just 36.5 percent from the field as a team including going 1-for-10 from downtown in the first half.

One positive for the Minutemen in the first game was that they were able to limit the Explorers’ leading scorer, Pookie Powell, to just 4-for-12 from the field. While the guard finished with 17 points, eight came on free throws, most at the end of the game.

It takes a total team effort on the defensive end to stop a player as explosive as Powell, and UMass is determined to contain him once again.

“We played great team defense,” Pierre said. “It’s not one-on-one, it’s five against the ball, so whenever he has the ball we have to show him as many bodies as possible.”

After the loss, McCall was not pleased with the way center Rashaan Holloway was utilized on the offensive end. La Salle is weak at the big man spot, having nobody with the size to match Holloway in the post, yet the big man was limited to taking just two shots in 25 minutes of action.

If the Minutemen offense is struggling from outside, look for them to feed the ball to Holloway in the post in hopes of getting easy baskets.

Tipoff for the game is set for 7 p.m. at the Tom Gola Arena.

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

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