Carl Pierre comes up big, leads UMass over St. Joe’s

Sophomore does it again

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Carl Pierre comes up big, leads UMass over St. Joe’s

Photo by Joe Frank

Photo by Joe Frank

Photo by Joe Frank

Photo by Joe Frank

By Amin Touri, Sports Editor

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Carl Pierre’s developing a knack for these sorts of things.

With the Massachusetts men’s basketball team trying to claw its way back from a 19-point deficit against Saint Joseph’s on Saturday, the sophomore sniper saw the moment and took it.

Pierre finished 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting and 3-of-8 from deep, willing the Minutemen (10-17, 3-11 Atlantic 10) back down the stretch and making huge shots when it mattered most to lead his team to an 80-79 win.

After a pair of Lamarr Kimble free throws briefly slowed UMass’ comeback and put the Hawks (11-16, 4-10 A-10) back up 79-75 in the final minute, Pierre caught it at the top of the key and fired away, drilling his third three of the half to cut the lead to a single point with 19 seconds to play.

Taylor Funk threw away the inbounds pass, and when the Minutemen had a chance to win it, only one guy was ever going to take the last shot.

“Nothing like playing in front of a good crowd,” Pierre said, “with the pressure and the lights on, and just trying to make a play.”

Pierre took it from Keon Clergeot at the top of the key and went left, taking two dribbles and pulling up just past the elbow. Jared Bynum contested, Chris Clover rotated to help, but Pierre buried it anyways. It was the Minutemen’s only lead of the game, but it was the only one they needed.

“I’ve been continuing to stay confident in myself and staying aggressive,” Pierre said. “And part of that is just, when I think I have a look that I can exploit, just asking for the ball.”

It was part of a spectacular second half for Pierre, who scored 19 in the second half alone. He went 3-for-5 from deep in the final 20 minutes, and made impact plays elsewhere.

With 8:40 to play in the second half, UMass finally cut the lead back to double-digits, 70-61, after trailing by 10-15 points throughout the second half. Hawks forward Charlie Brown missed a jumper and there was a scramble for a loose ball, and Pierre dove through arms and legs to retrieve the loose ball and called timeout before Jared Bynum could force a jump ball, a turning point that helped the crowd back into the game.

“Everybody on the floor and on the bench was locked in, we were trying to bring energy,” Pierre said. “I feel like that play just put us over the top, after that play we all believed, like we got this game, we’ve just got to keep going, we got it.”

Two plays later, Pierre hit a big three to cut the lead to six, and after another defensive stop, he hit another to force Phil Martelli to use a timeout and drew the biggest eruption of the day from the Mullins crowd, momentum firmly in hand.

It was a slow start for Pierre, who had only two points in the first half and missed his first three 3-pointers, but it became one of his most memorable performances in a UMass uniform to date.

“I passed up on a few shots, but I was trying to be aggressive,” Pierre said. “In the second half that really just started to work for me, I was able to get myself going at the free throw line, get to the basket, get a few easy ones. I think it just translated, and it was just a snowball effect.”

Coach Matt McCall, who was flu-stricken on Saturday and toughed out a 102-degree fever to coach the comeback, echoed his usual praises of his burgeoning young star.

“Carl Pierre is grown. He’s grown. He cares, and I’ve said this a thousand times in the press conference, he embodies everything we want this program to be about, on and off the floor. His work ethic, his competitiveness, his appreciation for being here.

“Our four core values, team, passion, toughness, discipline, he’s got them all. And he brings it every day.”

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