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UMass preps for finals, busy week on hardcourt

  • Luwane Pipkins and the rest of the UMass men’s basketball team have been busy studying for final exams as well as preparing for a pair of opponents this week, including a Georgia State team that visits the Mullins Center tonight at 7. Recorder file photo

  • UMass’ C.J. Anderson could see significant time as part of a four-guard set the Minutemen will use tonight against Georgia State at 7 at the Mullins Center. Recorder file photo



For The Recorder
Tuesday, December 19, 2017

AMHERST — In the middle of finishing final papers and studying for exams in sociology, economics, psychology etc, the UMass men’s basketball team has had to squeeze in time to cram for Georgia State.

“It’s a difficult time right now because of finals,” said UMass coach Matt McCall, whose teams hosts the Panthers tonight at 7 p.m. followed by Maine, Friday at 4 p.m. “They’re dealing with more than they’re normally dealing with. There’s some distractions.”

Sophomore Luwane Pipkins said the key is to be focused on basketball when the team is in the gym, and to be focused on academics outside of it.

“Finals are tough for everybody on the team. We’re just trying to knock those out,” he said. “You have to knock your academics out, come back here to the grind, then go back to academics.

“This week is a tough week. Everybody wants to get it over fast, but we still have two games. We still have finals left,” he continued. “Once we get those done we can enjoy everything.”

Georgia State arrives in Amherst at 7-4 after an overtime loss at Dayton on Saturday.

Two of those wins have come against non-Division I programs, Carver Bible College and Point University. They also beat Rice, Eastern Washington, Tulane, Alabama A&M and Montana.

The other losses were to Ole Miss, Prairie View A&M and Liberty.

GSU will play a four-guard lineup most of the time, utilizing a matchup zone on defense to counteract its lack of size.

When UMass answers with its own small lineup with C.J. Anderson or Unique McLean playing the four, Pipkins said the Minutemen guards have to rebound.

“When we have four-guards in the game we all have to crash the boards,” he said. “It’s important to crash the boards and push the pace so they can’t set their zone.”

Sophomore guard D’Marcus Simonds does a little bit of everything for Georgia State. More than a little bit actually. Before Tuesday’s action, his 20.9 points per game ranked him 33rd in the nation. He’s scored at least 10 in 28 straight games.

Despite being just 6-foot-3, he’s second on the Panthers in rebounding at 5.2 per game, to go with his team-best 4.6 assists per game.

Junior Malik Benlevi has McCall’s attention. The 6-foot-5 forward is averaging 11.6 points and 6.3 points per game and is shooting 49.1 percent from 3-point range (26-of-53).

“The kid who kind of makes the ship go is Benlevi. He makes everyone around him better,” McCall said. “He puts you in a lot of difficult binds matchup-wise.”

NOTES — Carl Pierre, a Boston native and huge Patriots’ fan, has had some fun at Steelers’ supporter C.J. Anderson’s expense after the much talked-about New England victory Sunday.

Pipkins, a Chicago native, said the influx of Bostonians Curtis Cobb and Pierre joining Rayshawn Miller on the roster has stoked the playful rivalry with Anderson.

Pipkins has no dog in that fight, but likes to stoke the fire.

“I egg it on to start trouble a little bit,” he said smiling mischievously.

Tyrone Weeks Jr., the son of the former UMass standout, scored his 1,000th career point for Rhode Island’s Bishop Hendricken High School earlier this week.

The 6-foot-4 wing is a potential lower Division I or Division II prospect according to New England Recruiting report.