UMass outlasts Western Carolina

  • UMass guard Luwane Pipkins drives to the basket against Western Carolina’s Maurice Smith Tuesday night at the empty, pre-holiday Mullins Center in Amherst. gazette photo

For The Recorder
Tuesday, November 21, 2017

AMHERST — With just under 9 minutes left, UMass appeared to be at best in a tight spot and at worst in danger of blowing a lead and the game to one of the worst teams on its schedule.

Then, clinging to a one-point lead, Rayshawn Miller, who hadn’t scored until that point, elevated and knocked down a 3-pointer with 8:55 left. When Western Carolina called time out, it was UMass that benefited from the breather. The Minutemen scored the next eight points to stretch their run to 11 straight and stayed in control from there, escaping with a 85-76 win.

“That was a huge 3. We went with four guards to space the floor against their zone,” McCall said. “When we spaced the floor, those shots were there and he made a big one.”

With school out for Thanksgiving, UMass was without its band, its legions of cheerleader-types and student fans leaving the Mullins Center devoid of energy and atmosphere and the Minutemen reflected it at the start of both halves.

McCall said the team’s lack of spark started before the game.

“I’m happy we won. Take nothing away from a victory. But I think we’re going to be able to take a lot from this game,” he said. “We’ll break it down and really, really learn a lot of different things. I was not happy with our effort at shoot-around, much less our effort to start the game. … We were too loose and it completely showed to start the game.”

Luwane Pipkins led UMass with 21 points and a career-high 10 assists. Carl Pierre’s offensive success carried over Sunday with 15 points. Malik Hines added 11 points and nine rebounds.

Despite sputtering out of the gate, UMass’ pressure seemed to rattle the Catamounts, who didn’t have a field goal in the last 6:19 of the half. The Minutemen scored 14 straight points to go from down two to up 12 at 42-30 with 48.8 seconds left.

But after Devin Peterson hit two free throws with 25.6 seconds left, Mike Amius blocked Pipkins driving to the basket, starting a fast break that drew a foul. The Catamounts made all three free throws to cut UMass’ edge to 42-35 at the break.

UMass guard C.J. Anderson missed a would-be buzzer beating 3 with 0.3 seconds left. It was a fitting end to a foul-filled half for the home team as Rashaan Holloway, Malik Hines and Anderson each had two and Chris Baldwin had three before the break.

“We had some lack-of-discipline plays. We foul a 3-point shooter with 0.3 seconds left on the clock,” McCall said. “That’s just a lack of discipline.”

Western’s shooting woes carried into the second half, but UMass couldn’t take advantage as the Catamounts turned Minuteman turnovers into offense to draw within one at 55-54 before Miller’s shot.

Desmond Johnson led Western Carolina (1-4) with 17 points and five rebounds, while Matt Halvorsen had 18 points.

“Nobody is good enough to just show up and play,” McCall said. “You see scores every night where a team from the Southern Conference beats a team from the SEC. Your focus every single day has to be through the roof, especially with eight scholarship guys.”

The Minutemen (3-1) face No. 14 Minnesota, Friday at noon at Long Island University in the Barlclays Center Classic.