Coach questions commitment in latest Minuteman loss

For The Recorder
Wednesday, January 24, 2018

PHILADELPHIA — In basketball, some nights you have it and some nights you don’t.

That can have to do with shots falling or not, the ball bouncing the right way or a thousand other potential in-game factors.

UMass coach Matt McCall knew right away during Wednesday’s nights 87-72 loss to La Salle that it was not going to be a good night for his team, but not for any of those reasons.

“The tone of the game was set on the first play,” McCall said. “All we talked about was fronting the post. We didn’t front the post and they scored. We were on our heels the second the ball was thrown up in the air.”

McCall made it very clear that the way the Minutemen played was not a product of bad execution, but rather a bad mind set and lack of competitiveness.

“We can have a good practice, we can have a good shootaround,” McCall said. “Once the ball is thrown up in the air, you have to compete. You have to do exactly what is being asked of you to do.”

When the teams met two weeks ago, UMass (10-11, 3-5 Atlantic 10) shed a light on that competitiveness with a come from behind overtime win over La Salle (9-12, 3-5 A-10). Luwane Pipkins led the charge with a school-record 44 points.

But tonight, he was mostly ineffective in the first half, which allowed La Salle to charge out to a 47-27 halftime lead. The Explorers threw different looks at him, which threw him out of rhythm.

“This is going to continue with him going forward, no matter who we play,” McCall said. “Other guys have to step up as well. But he has to see the floor a little bit better and not try and force as many things. For us to be great offensively, we’re relying an enormous amount on him.”

He did have a good showing in the second half. Pipkins dumped in 19 points, most of them after La Salle raced out to a 30 point lead. He finished the night with 25 points on 8-for-17 shooting.

“I thought Saul (Phiri) shut (Pipkins) down, I really did,” La Salle coach John Giannini said. “Then I look at the stat sheet and saw he scored 25 and shot a decent percentage. That guy is just terrific.”

But the margin of error for UMass is very small and one player not going to carry the team in many games. The only other Minutemen in double figures were Carl Pierre and Malik Hines, both of whom had 11 points. McCall didn’t believe his team played together, or showed any fight when it got punched in the mouth early on.

“If we don’t have a competitiveness and aren’t connected, we don’t have a shot,” McCall said.

The lack of competitiveness led to La Salle having a field day on the offensive end. They shot 55 percent from the floor, and were never really challenged to adjust their offense. McCall did change his defense from man-to-man to 2-3 zone, but it didn’t make much difference.

“Whatever defense we were in during the first half didn’t matter,” McCall said. “We were getting whipped off the bounce. Tried to go to a zone and they started making 3’s. It didn’t matter. That’s not an execution thing, that’s a mind set thing.”

B.J Johnson, the Atlantic 10’s leading scorer, led all with 26 points for La Salle. Senior guard Amar Stukes used his size advantage over Pipkins to go 8-for-9 from the field for 22 points.

So what’s next for UMass, aside from Saturday afternoon’s match-up with Fordham? McCall says his team really needs to figure out what it wants from the rest of the year.

“What we’re asking these guys to do on a daily basis is not easy, and it’s not for everyone,” McCall said. “But they have to understand they are getting an unbelievable opportunity to play every single night in the Atlantic 10 at a great university that has an enormous amount of history. Is it really important to you? It has to be important to everyone on this team for us to have a chance.”