UMass’ energy and defense highlight win against Duquesne

Minutemen hold Duquesne to 36.7 percent shooting from the field

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UMass’ energy and defense highlight win against Duquesne

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

By Javier Melo, Assistant Sports Editor

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Energy and defense were the story of the game for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s 73-64 win over Duquesne.

The Minutemen (8-12, 2-5 Atlantic 10) started off the game with a lineup that included freshmen Kolton Mitchell and Preston Santos — both of whom were getting their first start — Carl Pierre, Samba Diallo and Tre Mitchell. The focus was clearly on making a defensive impact early on, but what this lineup brought to the game was a blend of stout defense, contagious energy and a movement on offense that UMass hadn’t had since the early stretch of the season.

“Honestly, I think it’s just that they threw four of our better defenders in that lineup,” T. Mitchell said. “And I think we knew that going in and we knew to be aggressive and cause adversity for Duquesne.

“In our last game [against George Mason], [we] started to fall apart when things started to go wrong when we were in there for a short period of time. Us just coming out strong and throwing the first punch really set the tone.”

When the final buzzer sounded, UMass had forced 10 turnovers and racked up six steals and two blocks. Those individual statistics aren’t what made this a special defensive performance.

The Minutemen were able to hold Duquesne (15-4, 5-2 A-10) to just 36.7 percent shooting from the field and 30.4 percent shooting from three. The overall percentage comes in at eight percent lower than the Dukes’ season average.

The length that UMass was able to deploy on the perimeter and in the paint was evident, as shots were altered left and right. The duo of Diallo and Santos are known for their defensive prowess and effort, but their length and quick feet kept ballhandlers at bay and forced many kick-outs to guards on the perimeter. UMass coach Matt McCall was definitely intrigued with combining size with energy on Saturday, at one point deploying a lineup that included Diallo, T. Mitchell and Djery Baptiste.

On the perimeter, Pierre and K. Mitchell offered a bigger guard duo that made it difficult for the Duquesne guards to be able to pass the ball effectively. K. Mitchell is a hellacious defender and isn’t afraid of contact and chipping away at opposing ball handlers. In his first start, he didn’t have the most impressive of stat lines, but his movement on both ends, discipline on defense and overall effort proved fruitful for UMass in the end.

“Toughness,” McCall said about what K. Mitchell brings to the team. “Toughness, mentality, defend. He was bodying plays, [guarding] the ball. His teammates wanted him out there. It was great to see that. And he’s playing with one hand.

“Think about that. He broke his hand and he’s out there and he wants to be out there more than anything.”

The other freshman in the lineup, Santos, had his best game of the season. Aside from bursting for 15 points, 6-foot-6 forward brought an element to the starting group that was missing: effort. He finished with 12 rebounds, four of which were offensive. Most of those rebounds were jump out of the gym type of grabs. He sprinted hard back on defense and floated around in a way that made him a threat to any offensive player within 10 feet of him. His defensive IQ and overall energy helped drive the UMass victory.

“Preston is a good player, on both sides of the ball,” McCall said. “I remember the first time I saw him when he came to our camp, I thought ‘this guy’s talent level is through the roof.’ With Carl struggling, he stepped up in a lot of different ways. But it wasn’t just the ball going through the hoop, it was just his effort.”

In the end, UMass won the game and held Duquesne to 64 points, seven points below its season average of 71. A couple of players managed to break through to get to double figures, but the UMass defense had the game in hand, even in times where the offense struggled. The overall effort by the Minutemen powered them to this bounce-back victory against a strong conference foe.

UMass returns to Mullins on Wednesday to host Saint Joseph’s with tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Javier can be reached by email at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @JMeloSports.