First-half 3-point barrage propels UMass basketball past Rider

  • Sean East II, right, of UMass, passes against Christian Ings, of Rider, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019 at the Mullins Center.

  • Keon Clergeot, center, of UMass, drives to the basket against Rider defenders Tyere Marshall, left, and Stevie Jordan. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Sean East II, left, of UMass, shoots against Rider defenders Christian Ings, center, and Frederick Scott, Wednesday at the Mullins Center. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Carl Pierre, right, of UMass, moves the ball against Christian Ings, of Rider, Wednesday, at the Mullins Center in Amherst. JERREY ROBERTS

  • Samba Diallo, top, of UMass, begins a dunk after getting past Willy Nunez, Jr., right, of Rider, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019 at the Mullins Center.

  • Keon Clergeot, right, of UMass, shoots against Willy Nunez, Jr., of Rider, Wednesday at the Mullins Center. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Samba Diallo, of UMass, dunks against Rider, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019 at the Mullins Center.

  • Carl Pierre, right, of UMass, tries to pass against Dimencio Vaughn, of Rider, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019 at the Mullins Center.

  • UMass players Carl Pierre, top left, and Samba Diallo defend against Frederick Scott, of Rider, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019 at the Mullins Center.

  • Preston Santos, center, of UMass, shoots against Rider defenders Willy Nunez, Jr., left, and Arjiri Ogemuno-Johnson, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019 at the Mullins Center.

  • Sean East II, right, of UMass, passes away from Christian Ings, of Rider, Wednesday at the Mullins Center. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • T.J. Weeks, center, of UMass, goes after a loose ball against Allen Powell, left, of Rider, Wednesday at the Mullins Center. Arjiri Ogemuno-Johnson looks on. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/21/2019 7:04:17 PM
Modified: 11/21/2019 7:04:05 PM

AMHERST — During one timeout in the middle of the second half, Matt McCall got a little fired up while addressing Carl Pierre.

As the junior was starting to put his mark on the game, the third-year coach poked his guard in the chest and told him “that’s why you’re our captain.” When UMass needed Pierre the most Wednesday night, he was there to take over the game with freshmen Tre Mitchell and T.J. Weeks on the bench with foul trouble.

Rider cut its deficit to six with 11 minutes, 42 seconds left, but Pierre responded with eight straight points for the Minutemen. He hit a layup, converted a traditional three-point play then hit a 3-pointer to extend the UMass lead back to double digits. It never slipped from that moment, as UMass cruised to the 82-72 win over the Broncs in the second on-campus game of the 2019 Air Force Reserve Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off at the Mullins Center.

“I tried to stay aggressive throughout the entire game and not try to settle,” Pierre said. “In that stretch, it really worked out for me. I was able to get myself going going to the basket, and my teammates were looking for me. Really big shoutout to them, they were looking for me, they kept feeding me, kept getting the ball to me in my spots and I was just able to hit the shots.”

Pierre and Weeks put on a shooting clinic in the first half, connecting on almost every shot they attempted from behind the arc in the opening 20 minutes. Weeks got it going first by knocking down four 3-pointers in a five-possession stretch to extend the lead from three points to 13. Then it was Pierre’s turn to scorch the net with three more 3-pointers to keep the lead in double digits.

The duo didn’t miss a shot from behind the arc until there was four minutes left in the first half. They combined to make 8-of-10 3-point attempts as the Minutemen (5-0) shot nearly 61 percent from the field. It was a sudden burst from a team that had started off slowly on offense in the first four games of the season.

“We were just trying to find our spots early,” Weeks said. “If we find our spots early then everyone else will be wide open because the defense will play us more. Everybody else gets involved and now it’s a team game, we won as a team.”

The sharp shooting was necessary to combat the emotional drain of the week, which McCall admitted had an effect on the team’s preparation for Rider (2-2). The season-ending injury to John Buggs III put a damper on the team’s focus for Wednesday’s matchup, but McCall said it was helped by Buggs’ attitude throughout the week as he hobbled and cheered on his teammates during practice and again against the Broncs.

The Minutemen had a chance to put the Broncs away earlier, as they let a 17-point first-half lead dwindle to 11 in the final three minutes of the half. Then the lead shrunk to six with Mitchell and Weeks stuck to the bench with foul trouble. There was also the dominant effort of Tyere Marshall, who finished with 28 points and 20 rebounds against the Minutemen.

Through all of that, UMass found a response to pull away and grind out the victory.

“I’m proud of our team,” McCall said. “I didn’t think we played very well, I didn’t think I coached very well and I told our team afterwards, we found a way to grind it out and win the game, and that’s what it is about.”

UMass is now 5-0 for the first time since 2013-14 – the last season the Minutemen played in the NCAA Tournament – but the team has tried to keep an even keel attitude to the early success. The Minutemen were favored to win four of their first five games anyway before the season, and the tough test awaits them Saturday in the semifinals of the Air Force Reserve Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off against Virginia.

Even with the defending national champions looming in 48 hours, UMass is trying to stick with the same mentality that led them to this perfect start.

“Everybody’s connected, everybody’s together, but a big key for us is not to get too high and not to get too low,” Pierre said. “We keep saying after every game, we go right back down to the bottom of the mountain and we try to climb back up and try to get another win and keep it rolling.”




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