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UMass comes up short at South Carolina in fourth straight loss

  • UMass Head Coach Matt McCall shouts instructions during his team's game against Western Carolina, Tuesday at the Mullins Center. Kevin Gutting

  • UMass sophomore guard Luwane Pipkins, shown here against Niagara, had 25 points in Saturday’s loss to South Carolina.



@MattVautourDHG
Saturday, December 02, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Free throws were the story for the second straight game for UMass. South Carolina missed enough to keep the Minutemen in the game most of the way, but made key ones down the stretch to hold on for the win.

UMass didn’t go to the line enough to pull away when it had the chance and committed too many fouls to keep the players it wanted in the game as the Minutemen lost their fourth straight, 76-70, Saturday at Colonial Life Arena.

The Minutemen committed 28 fouls compared to just 12 by South Carolina. They only got to the line five times and made four free throws. The Gamecocks struggled at the line making just 17 of 29, but made the last four when the game was in doubt.

“We have to find ways to get fouled and be more physical,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. 

A Unique McLean 3-pointer with 5:54 left, going into a time out, brought UMass within two at 58-56 and gave the visitors a bit of momentum. But out of the break, Hassani Gravett lofted an alley-oop to Chris Silva who slammed it home bringing the crowd to its feet. A quick Minuteman turnover at the other end led to a Gamecock fast break that ended with another Silva dunk that made it 62-56 with 5:06 left.

The sequence and the crowd seemed to infuse some energy into South Carolina.

“We had gone a bunch of plays in man to man going into the time out. We went zone thinking (Gamecock coach Frank Martin) was going go think we were in man,” McCall said. “He called a great zone play. That got the crowd into it and it was hard to recover. We fought back and we had chances.”

The Gamecocks kept UMass at arm’s length until late leading 71-64 with 1:02 left. After Luwane Pipkins, who found his missing shooting stroke, buried a 3-pointer, Frank Booker made just one of two free throws at the other end to make it 72-67 with 39 seconds left.

Pipkins missed a trey, but Holloway grabbed the rebound and UMass got the ball to Carl Pierre, who hit a 3 to make it 72-70 with 20 seconds left. Hassani Gravett had missed three of five free throws when McLean sent him to the line with 15 seconds left, but he made both to push USC’s lead to two possessions at 74-70 to clinch the win.

“We have to take this game and learn from it big time,” Pipkins said. “We have to do a better job playing team ball and playing tougher.”

Pipkins had 25 points, while Pierre added 12 points. Freshman Justin Minaya led South Carolina (6-2) with 17. The Gamecocks outrebounded the Minutemen, 36-26.

UMass appeared to be in trouble early in the game. The Minutemen turned the ball over as South Carolina denied passes all over the floor and the Minutemen trailed 21-9. Despite foul trouble for Malik Hines, Rashaan Holloway, Rayshawn Miller and Pipkins, who each had two fouls before intermission, UMass adjusted and cut into the home-team’s lead.

The Minutemen trailed 30-19 after a three-point play by Felipe Haase with 6:46 left in the half. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Miller and Pipkins started a half-closing 16-4 run as UMass led 35-34 at intermission.

It stretched the lead to 48-43 after intermission, but the Gamecocks put together a 13-2 surge and led 56-50 with 8:57 left setting up the tight final stretch.

UMass (3-5) returns home to host Holy Cross on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

“I thought we fought and showed some really good resilience there in the first half fighting our way back into the game. I thought our guys were prepared and excited and engaged and I thought they were ready to play,” McCall said. “I felt a good vibe from our team. They were excited to play this game and competed at a high level.”

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