Perimeter defense lackluster for UMass in 89-86 loss

Ball State shot 56.3 percent from three

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McKenna Premus/Daily Collegian

By Joey Aliberti, Assistant Sports Editor

Defensive woes allowed Ball State to score 89 points against the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, who lost two of its three games in the Jersey Mike’s Classic over the weekend.

The Minutemen’s (3-3) 89-86 loss against the Cardinals (2-3) Sunday represents the fourth time in six games they’ve allowed 88 or more points.

“We have no identity defensively,” UMass head coach Matt McCall said after the loss. “We have to sit down and guard.”

Ball State was making 3-pointers at ease. The team made 56.3 percent of them, shooting nine of 16 against the Minutemen. In their previous four games, the Cardinals shot 36.3 percent from beyond the arc. Players such as Luke Bumbalough and Jalen Windham led the way for them, combining for 5-7 from three.

In their three games this weekend, the Minutemen allowed opponents to make 28 of their 54 3-pointers and score 89 points on average. Weber State has made 34 percent of its threes in all its games other than against UMass, when it shot 11-of-21, or 52 percent. UNC Greensboro is in a similar boat, shooting 29 percent on 3-pointers against all other opponents. Against UMass? The Spartans made 8-of-17, or 47 percent. Both teams also hit a season-high of 3-pointers against the Minutemen. Both teams’ previous high was seven.

“Teams are making a ridiculous amount of three versus us,” McCall said. “We’ve got to get that corrected and we’ve got to get that corrected fast.”

“I want to be more aggressive, I want to have more alertness, I want to have more awareness out there. We’ve got to communicate better… We’ve got to be much better. We have to be much better and it starts at the top and all the way down.”

The top is Noah Fernandes, McCall’s lead perimeter player and primary ballhandler. Fernandes totaled 18 minutes and five in the second half. He was most likely dealing with a minor injury, as he has averaged a team-high 33.2 minutes per game coming into Sunday’s contest against Ball State. Dibaji Walker is arguably McCall’s best overall defender, and he was limited to 11 minutes as he found himself in foul trouble early.

With just over 13 minutes remaining in the game UMass was down 67-56 and decided to try and switch up the defensive look on the Cardinals with the attempt to confuse them and potentially cause them to miss more shots from the perimeter.

A 2-3 zone was implemented by McCall, the first time he has ordered his team to run the defense all season. The move backfired, as Ball State drew a foul and made both free throws on the first possession followed by back-to-back wide-open corner 3-pointers on the next two possessions. McCall was forced to burn a timeout and end the 8-2 run the Cardinals went on while facing McCall’s zone defense.

Free throw shooting also became a major factor in this game. Ball State got to the line 32 times and hit 26, an 81 percent mark. The Minutemen attempted 19 free throws and made 11, a 58 percent mark.

“You can point back to certain stats at the end of the game and see… which team won,” McCall said. “I think the free throw margin is a huge stat, I think the rebounding margin is a huge stat, I think 3-point field goal percentage is a huge stat. You look down at those statistical categories, we lost every single one of them.”

Other than an anomaly game coming against UNC Greensboro when UMass made 26-of-28 free throws, this has been a team that struggles from the stripe. Other than Friday’s game, the Minutemen have shot 62 percent from the free throw line, which would put them as a bottom-60 team in the nation in that statistic.

UMass has the next two days off until it hosts UMass Lowell on Wednesday. The River Hawks are currently 2-0 this season against Atlantic 10 opponents.

Joey Aliberti can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @JosephAliberti1.