UMass’ defense showed improvement in its 92-81 win over UMass Lowell

Minutemen allowed fewest amount of points in the first half this season

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McKenna Premus / Daily Collegian

By Frederick Hanna III, Assistant Sports Editor

In one of its most complete defensive performances of the season, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team came out on top over UMass Lowell by a score of 92-81 at the Mullins Center.

It was the third time this season that UMass (4-3) held its opponent to less than at least 88 points. The defensive performance was far from perfect and showed that the Minutemen are still in need of some necessary adjustments in their game plan, but the result was a big improvement from recent games.

“Obviously I was really proud of our defensive effort in the first half,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “Really [was proud] probably for the first 20-25 minutes of the [first] half, we extended a lead there and then we just completely let off the gas. We stopped doing what got us the lead and stopped being aggressive and gave up way too many threes.”

The Minutemen’s first two wins of the season saw them limit Penn State and UMBC to 60 points or less. In Wednesday night’s contest against the River Hawks (4-2), UMass held them to 27 points in the first half, the lowest amount of points a Minutemen opponent has scored this season.

UMass Lowell came into the game as advertised with its poor 3-point shooting. It became evident in the first half that the three ball wasn’t clicking for the squad. The River Hawks went 1-of-7 from deep in the first half. Coming into the game the team was shooting 26.9 percent from three. UMass Lowell finished the game going 10-of-25 from beyond the arc due in part to a resurgence of offense in the second half.

A strong first half showing on defense seemed like a night and day turnaround from the performances UMass had in the Jersey Mike’s Classic this past weekend. The increased usage of Javohn Garcia into the lineup due to the absence of Noah Fernandes, who is dealing with a leg injury, provided for much needed half-court pressure on defense.

Another adjustment was made with the insertion of Michael Steadman into the rotation. Steadman played in 12 minutes of action on the court, picking up four rebounds in his first minutes for UMass this season after coming off an ankle injury.

Steadman slotted into the rotation with fellow big men Greg Jones, Trent Buttrick, Dyondre Dominguez and Dibaji Walker. All five big’s have given McCall a different skillset to work with this year.

“I thought all five [forwards] did something positive in the first half,” McCall said. “Foul trouble will dictate some games, but we have the luxury [of depth]. I think that we’ve got to continue to work. We’ve got to continue to work with the lineups in the game, continue to work playing big and playing small. They all warrant playing some minutes right now.”

UMass Lowell almost crawled back into the game thanks to a second half performance where it came one-point shy of outscoring the Minutemen. UMass allowed the River Hawks to shoot 50 percent from outside the perimeter. After limiting UMass Lowell to 11 shots made in the first half, the River Hawks went 20-of-37 from the field in the second half.

UMass Lowell cut UMass’ lead to eight with just over a minute remaining in the game, but it was too little too late.

The duo of Buttrick and Dominguez fared to be successful defensively for UMass. Buttrick finished with two steals and two blocks against the River Hawks, adding to his team leading total of six blocks and 13 steals on the season. The forward got the offense rolling early for the Minutemen thanks to a steal 38 seconds into the game which led to a basket on the other end for C.J. Kelly.

Dominguez finished with a game-high seven rebounds and one steal in 23 minutes of action. Similarly to Buttrick, Dominguez had a steal that led to a basket for Rich Kelly in the second half which increased UMass’ lead at the time to 19 points.

The Minutemen will continue their three-game home stand when they take on Rutgers Saturday, Nov. 27. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m.

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