Minutemen looking to overcome struggles with win on Sunday over George Mason

Mitchell and Pierre critical factors in contest against Patriots

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Parker Peters

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

By Frederick Hanna III, Collegian Staff

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team find themselves in a unique situation with the season nearly over. They are losers of two straight games and are facing a struggling George Mason (13-9, 2-7 Atlantic 10) team Sunday who come in losers of three straight games.

For UMass (9-14, 3-7 A-10), it isn’t in contention to win the A-10, but this next stretch of games will determine how battle-tested it is to end the season.

Coming off of a hard-fought loss to Rhode Island on Tuesday, UMass coach Matt McCall was more than pleased with the effort his side showed against a gritty URI team.

“We have to play with that level of intensity,” McCall said on how UMass performed. “Their length, their size, their physicality we matched a lot of that and I was proud of that, but the moral victories–we got to find a way to win some of those games. We’ve got another opportunity on Sunday.

The Minutemen played off of the sensational performance that freshman Tre Mitchell had in the loss to URI. Mitchell finished with a season high of 30 points and was a force down low in the paint.

“I think we [UMass] are confident moving forward because we are starting to have a familiarity with these teams that are coming in and I think that some of these teams are going to come in with the wrong mindset towards us and we are going to get an advantage over them early,” Mitchell said.

Aside from Mitchell, the scoring for the rest of the team was minimal. Players such as Preston Santos and Carl Pierre will be critical for UMass to muster a win on Sunday. Santos is coming off of a four-point performance against URI after putting up double digits in scoring in three straight games beforehand. Santos has been a key piece for UMass who have been looking for a third and fourth scorer to compliment the play of Mitchell and Pierre.

Pierre’s consistency has been the glue for the Minutemen for the majority of the season, especially after losing TJ Weeks to a season ending injury. UMass shot just 4-of-16 from deep in the second half in their loss at George Mason in the first game against the Patriots, and the player key in turning that number around is Pierre. Pierre ranks 14th in the A-10 for 3-point percentage.

On the other side of the ball, the Minutemen will be looking to stop the likes of Javon Greene and A.J. Wilson. Green is averaging 14.3 points per game and tore apart UMass’ defense in the Patriot’s win earlier in the season. Green put up 32 points, with a majority of his points coming from the charity stripe.

McCall mentioned the difference between the two teams’ free-throw shooting.

“The difference in the game was the free-throw discrepancy. You have a nine-point lead with 13 minutes to go and we lose by 10. That’s a 19-point swing in a 13-minute span. A large portion of them [points] came at the free-throw line,” McCall said.

George Mason had 11 more free-throw attempts than UMass did in the last matchup, converting 82.8 percent of them compared to UMass’ 61.1 percent. UMass will look to lock up Greene Sunday who was the difference maker when UMass visited the Patriots.

“We got to play well. We got to be the more desperate team,” McCall said. “We got to play harder and we got to compete for 40 minutes. They’re going to come in here and play hard and we can’t allow them to play harder than us. We got to come out here and really, really compete. It would be a great win for us, but we got to go out and execute. We can’t just let Javon Greene go for 32 [points]; he hit 13 free-throws against us. It wasn’t just him making layups, which he did a lot of, he just lived in the lane. He constantly took us off the bounce, and we put him to the free-throw line.”

UMass takes on George Mason at home at the Mullins Center on Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Frederick Hanna III can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @FrederickHIII