Atlantic 10 tournament: UMass basketball survives La Salle in opening round

  • UMass guard C.J. Anderson protects the ball against La Salle defender Saul Phiri on Wednesday in Washington. The Minutemen won in the opening round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. MITCHELL LEFF / ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE

  • UMass guar Rayshawn Miller attacks the basket against La Salle’s Tony Washington on Wednesday in Washington during the Atlantic 10 Tournament. MITCHELL LEFF / ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE

  • UMass guard Luwane Pipkins surveys the La Salle defense Wednesday in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. MITCHELL LEFF / ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE

  • UMass guard CJ Anderson celebrates a 3-pointer against La Salle in the opening round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. MITCHELL LEFF / ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE

Thursday, March 08, 2018

WASHINGTON — With 4 seconds left, after Luwane Pipkins made one of two free throws to put UMass up two, La Salle inbounded the ball to Pookie Powell, and the senior guard took off up the floor.

He dribbled the ball behind his back to get a little separation from Pipkins and pulled up from behind the 3-point line just right of straight on, shooting for the win.

Everybody held their breath as the ball hung in the air. But it hit the back of the rim, then the backboard and kicked off the glass harmlessly to the floor, as UMass’ players erupted in celebration after a 69-67 win in the first round Atlantic 10 Tournament at Capital One Arena.

It was Powell’s second shot at a March moment. UMass led 68-67 with the ball and 44 seconds left. La Salle dug in defensively as the shot clock wound down, and B.J. Johnson blocked Unique McLean with 14 seconds remaining to give the Explorers the ball. Powell took the inbound and attacked the basket but missed with 8 seconds left.

Unique McLean grabbed the rebound and quickly sent an outlet pass to Pipkins, who was quickly fouled.

Pipkins, a 78 percent free throw shooter, missed the first free throw badly but made the second, setting up the final sequence.

C.J. Anderson continued the strong finish to his career with 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists to earn him another game. The No.13-seeded Minutemen (13-19) will face No. 5 George Mason, Thursday at 2:30 p.m.

“I’m proud of our team. Proud of this group. I said to the locker room, it was pretty evident after the game, you know, during the game, that C.J. Anderson didn’t want his college career to end, and he played with a vengeance today,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “I’m just really proud of everyone.”

UMass won despite Pipkins (15 points) playing just 26 minutes due to foul trouble throughout. After getting three in the first half, he picked up his fourth with 13:22 left with the game tied 40-40. Making it worse was that the whistle came with 1 second on the shot clock and Saul Phiri shooting a 3-pointer.

Phiri made 2-of-3 free throws to give La Salle the lead and seemingly momentum. But playing without their leading scorer seemed to galvanize the rest of the Minutemen. Down 45-42, after Khalea Turner-Morris made a layup, and Carl Pierre blocked Explorer center Tony Washington. Pierre, who finished with 11 points and six rebounds, had a pull-up jumper, two rebounds and that block (just his eighth of the year) in a 10-0 run that gave the Minuteman a 52-45 edge with 9:33 left.

“We preach just having the next man up, everyone’s got to be ready.

Before every game, we tell every person to be ready, and I think today was a game where that really was emphasized,” Pierre said. “We had a few guys with foul trouble, and I think everyone just stepped up their game and played with an intensity that we really needed to pull it out.”

The pendulum kept swinging. After Powell and B.J. Johnson led a 17-9 surge that briefly gave La Salle a 62-61 lead, Malik Hines made a jump hook, and Anderson followed with two free throws that made it 65-62 with 3:17 left. UMass’ lead never got bigger, but La Salle couldn’t draw even, as the Minutemen held on.

Anderson was glad to keep his career alive.

“It’s been a long, long journey so far, but I mean, we have so much left in our team to keep winning, keep playing, keep battling,” he said. “We just won a good game. That’s one. It’s time to get back to the boards and get ready for the next one.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage