UMass hoop hoping to learn from losses

For The Recorder
Friday, December 01, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. — UMass coach Matt McCall didn’t like the way his team played the last time it faced a big conference opponent or for that matter the way it play the last time it played anybody.

He’s hoping they’ve learned some lessons from those losses to Minnesota and Quinnipiac when the Minutemen head south for a 2 p.m. game at South Carolina Saturday at Colonial Life Arena.

“I was pretty animated the last two days, especially (Thursday) in practice,” McCall said. “We talked about all the things that go into winning. The margin for us is so small. But the frustrating part is they’ve showed they’re capable. We can make excuses for lack of bodies and we don’t have this and don’t have that and playing without a true point guard. But they’ve showed they’re capable of competing at a high level. The lack of consistency in our effort is the reason we’ve lost three of the games.

“We have to continue to teach and have these guys learn what it takes to win,” he continued. “Everybody wants to win 20 games and go to the NCAA Tournament, but for us to get to that point we have to go through some stuff.”

South Carolina has a very different team than the one who made a surprise run to the Final Four last year. Three starters, including their two leading scorers — Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier — and are adjusting to new roles.

The Gamecocks will try to beat the Minutemen after a tough turnaround. They lost to Temple, 76-60, Thursday at the Under Armor Reunion, a one-game exhibition at Madison Square Garden

“We’re going to see what kind of team we are,” said senior guard Frank Booker, a graduate transfer from FAU. “We lost. Are we going to fold and make excuses or are we going to buckle down and be ready for the next game?”

The Gamecocks are 5-2 overall. They opened with wins over Western Michigan and Wofford and fell to Illinois State in the first game of the Puerto Rico Tipoff (which was played at Myrtle Beach due to hurricane damage on the island).

They bounced back to beat UTEP and Western Michigan again to finish 2-1 in the event. They beat FIU in Miami, Monday before traveling to New York to face Temple.

Chris Silva figures to be a challenge for UMass inside. The 6-foot-9 junior is from Libreville, Gabon, the same place that produced ex-Minuteman star Stephane Lasme. Silva is averaging 12.7 points and 8.1 rebounds so far.

He’s joined in South Carolina’s international front court by Maik Kostar, a 6-foot-10 Estonian averaging 11.1 points and 4.3 rebounds. Booker has given USC a lift averaging 10.0 points and is shooting 37.8 percent from 3-point range.

Ball handling has been a concern as the Gamecocks have as many turnovers (106) as assists.

“We didn’t get into a whole lot of scouting (Thursday). It was more about our mentality because we didn’t have the right mentality Wednesda,” McCall said. “The biggest challenge is can we take care of the ball? We have to handle their denials and their pressure. Playing without a true point guard, that’s a challenge. We have to keep them off the backboard. If we take care of the ball and keep them off the backboard, I think we could be right there,. But those are two tall tasks.”