UMass looking to continue building momentum against St. Joe’s

Minutemen are coming off 73-64 win over Duquesne

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Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

By Javier Melo, Assistant Sports Editor

The message that coach Matt McCall had after the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s 73-64 win over Duquesne on Saturday was to bottle how they were played and how they felt and carry it into practice.

With St. Joseph’s coming in on Wednesday, the Minutemen (8-12, 2-5 Atlantic 10) will have to put together a repeat defensive performance to pull out another win.

“We’ve had two really good days of basketball,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “I’m proud of how the guys came back and weren’t at all complacent. Got back and got back to work and understand how big of a challenge we have tomorrow on our hands to experience the feeling that they had at four o’clock the other day in the locker room. That’s really been the focus here the last two days.”

The Hawks (4-16, 0-7 A-10) do not have the best of records, but they are a competitive team that grinds down their opponents. They lost two games by a close margin against Florida and Villanova and beat UConn earlier in the season. There are bad losses, but the record doesn’t tell the whole story about how competitive this team is.

St. Joe’s is a team that puts an emphasis on jump shooting, but the percentages have not been favorable to them this season. The Hawks are shooting 38 percent from the field and 30 percent from behind the arc. The defensive numbers also aren’t great either, allowing opponents to shoot 46 percent from the field and 36 percent for three.

In their previous two losses, a 13-point loss to Virginia Commonwealth and a 16-point loss to George Washington, the Hawks struggled to get going early. If UMass can get the ball going through the basket and limit turnovers in the first half, it would put the Minutemen in a controlling position to take on the second half onslaught by St. Joe’s.

UMass had a good game against the Dukes, but what is hidden in the victory is its poor shooting performance. The Minutemen shot 35 percent from the field and an abysmal 16.7 percent from behind the arc.

The Minutemen may not have been hitting on their jumpers, but they sure were cleaning up the glass. UMass finished the game with 52 rebounds, almost half coming from freshman Preston Santos and sophomore Samba Diallo. With a team that goes heavy on jump shots and shoot a low percentage like St. Joe’s coming in, rebounding will be key to UMass pulling out a win.

“I’ve talked to these guys a lot about this,” McCall said about the team’s rebounding. “Every team we face, Tre is getting doubled. So when Tre is getting doubled and kicks it out, shots go up. Someone’s not blocking you out, so you have a free run to the basket to get offensive rebounds. We’ve got to hold them accountable for that.”

Saturday’s game against Duquesne was highlighted by Santos and Kolton Mitchell’s insertion into the starting lineup. The new lineup was a shot in the arm for the Minutemen defensively and the various hustle plays that came as a result of Santos, K. Mitchell and Samba Diallo’s energy became infectious.

“When I get out there, you just see the game change, not to be cocky or anything,” K. Mitchell said. “Energy is contagious, and when you bring that, everyone else brings it. It’s just fun to watch.”

An emphasis has been put on finding a third or fourth scorer for UMass after Carl Pierre and Tre Mitchell. Against Duquesne, it was Santos that stepped up. In order to secure a win against the Hawks, someone will have to take that role as a tertiary scorer for the Minutemen.

“I’m proud of the kid,” Pierre said of Santos’ performance against Duquesne. “He came in there and really balled. He helped on the glass, he hit big shots when we needed him to, played great defense. It’s just huge.”

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