Opponent: Western Carolina Catamounts
League: Southern Conference
In their second game of the Barclays Center Classic, UMass matched up against the Western Carolina Catamounts of the Southern Conference. Coach Matt McCall was surely familiar with the opponent based on the yearly matchups he had against them in his time at Chattanooga. The Catamounts have faced an extremely difficult schedule thus far and entered the game with a 1-3 record including notable losses to Clemson as well as nationally ranked Minnesota (#14) and Cincinnati (#12).
Surprisingly, the Minutemen came out flat for the second game in a row as Western Carolina jumped out to a quick 5-0 start. It took longer for Umass to find their rhythm in this one as Catamount guard Devin Peterson dominated the first five minutes with seven points. At the fifteen minute mark, Umass trailed 17-10. Slowly, the Minutemen used their size and physicality to chip their way back into the game as C.J. Anderson drew fouls on a number of aggressive drives. In fact, Anderson struggled from the field all day but finished with eight points as he went six for eight from the stripe. UMass cut the deficit to one with 12:16 left in the first half and momentum appeared to be swinging back to the home team. Yet, Western Carolina answered the call with a five to nothing run to stretch their lead to 27-21. Shortly after, Carl Pierre hit a three pointer to slow the Catamounts and Khalea Turner Morris showed smooth touch from the foul line after drawing a foul on an offensive rebound. With six minutes left in the half, Chris Baldwin hit his second three pointer of the game and gave the Minutemen their first lead at 31-30, jumpstarting the biggest run of the season thus far. Thank’s to active defense and quick hands, UMass forced a number of turnovers which led to easy baskets. For the second game in a row, Freshman Carl Pierre was the X factor for the Minutemen. During the run, he nailed another three-pointer and two free throws to stretch the lead to double digits for the first time. Pierre finished with fifteen points while going three for nine from three point land on the day. A Luwane Pipkins layup with fifty-five seconds left in the first half made it 42-30 and capped off the fourteen to zero spurt for the Minutemen. There was no doubt which side held the momentum now, but Western Carolina responded with yet another five to zero run to end the half and make it a contest. At halftime, the Minutemen led 42-35.
Rashaan Holloway was quiet in the first half but got a quick touch and easy layup to begin the second. UMass looked poised to run away with it but the Catamounts stuck around, eventually cutting the Minutemen lead to one at 53-52 after five straight points from guard Desmond Johnson. With nine minutes and thirty-three seconds left in the game, Chris Baldwin responded with a layup to stop the run. It was easily Baldwin’s best game of the year thus far, and perhaps his whole career as he finished with twelve points and four rebounds. The following possession, Rayshawn Miller hit a three pointer to stretch the Minutemen advantage to four. The three ignited UMass as Malik Hines followed with an and-one layup and Carl Pierre added a dunk to cap off an electric 11-2 run. Point guard Luwane Pipkins assisted on four separate baskets on the run and had ten for the game. With his twenty-one point performance in thirty-eight minute’s , Pipkins, was clearly the most valuable player for the Minutemen once again as he recorded his first first double-double of the season. With six minutes remaining, Carl Pierre nailed another triple to give the Minutemen their largest lead of the game at 69-56. Western Carolina guard Matt Halvorsen would hit a pair of three pointers to cut the lead to seven with a minute remaining, but Pipkins would convert at the free throw line multiple times to end all doubt. The Minutemen Prevailed 85-76 and moved to 3-1 on the season.
Overall, It was the not the most convincing win, but UMass showed glimpses of the future upside this team has. Other than Pipkins and Pierre, the Minutemen were paced by Malik Hines who had his best game of the year as he finished one rebound away from a double-double with twelve points and nine rebounds. His contribution was key to the advantage UMass held on the glass at 32-25. Additionally, with the ten assists from Pipkins came better play making decisions which resulted in a season low twelve turnovers for the team. In the end, Western Carolina shot better from the field but UMass was able to make up for it by hitting more overall shots and three pointers. Ultimately, it was game of bursts from UMass who first gained separation with a 14-0 run in the first half and finished the Catamounts with an 11-2 one in the second. UMass must be more consistent for a full forty minutes if they hope to be successful in the A-10 and against tougher non-conference opponents. The next game is yet another Barclays Center Classic tilt and will be the toughest test of the season as UMass matches up against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Game is scheduled for 12:00 P.M. on Saturday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Final Score: 85-76
Team Stats: UMass Western Carolina
Field Goals: 27-59 (45.8%) 23-48 (47.9%)
3 Point Field Goals: 11-33 (33.3%) 6-17 (35.3%)
Free Throws: 20-22 (90.9%) 24-31 (77.4%)
Rebounds: 32 25
Assists: 21 12
Turnovers: 12 1