McCall expects recent success to increase opponents’ intensity against UMass

  • UMass coach Matt McCall coaches his team, Jan. 10 against La Salle at the Mullins Center. THOM KENDALL PHOTOGRAPHY

Friday, January 12, 2018

AMHERST — Going into the season, Matt McCall assumed most Atlantic 10 coaches looked at their game with his UMass team and penciled in a win.

The Minutemen were short-handed with four players sitting out and Jaylen Brantley unexpectedly sideline with a heart condition.

“Coaches do that. Coaches are lying to you if they don’t say they look at they’re schedule and say ‘we should win this game and we should win this game,” said McCall, whose team hosts Saint Joseph’s, Sunday at 5 p.m. “People probably thought UMass was a guaranteed win.”

At 9-8 (2-2 Atlantic 10), McCall said his team’s recent success has only made the path ahead of it harder.

“By winning at Dayton and beating Georgia and Providence and La Salle after being down 21, all you’re doing is waking people up,” he said. “People are going to come in here with an edge. Nobody is coming in sleeping. Nobody is coming in not ready to play. We have got to continue to prepare. We have to be focused and be on edge. Teams are going to come in here ready to play.”

Saint Joseph’s likely didn’t need to be awoken. The Minutemen beat the Hawks three times last year and coach Phil Martelli certainly has taken notice of UMass’ recent play.

“They certainly play with an energy,” Martelli said. “They’re very good at having their key players have the ball. (Luwane) Pipkins has had the ball in his hands more than he did previously. I was impressed with (Carl) Pierre against La Salle. (Malik) Hines is playing great, rebounding.”

It was UMass’ defensive effort against Dayton that most caught the league’s longest tenured coach’s attention.

“They held Dayton to 60 points. Forget the win, to hold Dayton, who wants to get up and down and scored 87 at Richmond, to 60 points, it has me concerned how we’re going to score the ball against their defense.”

The game is actually a battle of two teams that are an Otis Livingston II away from three-game winning streaks. The George Mason guard, who had 33 points in an overtime win over UMass on Jan. 3, hit a 25-footer at the buzzer to turn a one-point Hawk lead into an 81-79 Patriot win on Wednesday.

Martelli was glad his team had an extra day to recover.

“The silver lining is that this game is not Saturday,” Martelli said. “If we had to go in and practice Thursday and pick everybody off the mat and convince them the sky didn’t fall, that would have been hard.”

Saint Joseph’s, which had been a trendy pick to compete for both the Atlantic 10 title and NCAA at-large bid contention in the preseason, arrives at 7-8 (2-2 Atlantic 10).

For the second straight season injuries have severely clipped the Hawks. Junior guard Lamarr Kimble, who averaged 15.5 points, 4.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds last year and was a preseason all-conference honoree, has been sidelined since the season opener with a foot injury. He’ll miss the whole year.

Sophomore Charlie Brown is still officially expected to return, but the forward, who joined Kimble on the preseason third team, hasn’t played this year with a broken wrist.

Still, the Hawks have shown signs of coming together in the new year. After dropping their conference opener at George Washington, they beat both VCU and St. Bonaventure at home before Livingston broke their hearts.

“Everybody has to do a little bit more in these situations, including me,” Martelli said. “In each of our games we’ve shown a little bit of growth. ... I want to be hopeful, but at the same time I want to see what I need to see.”

Shavar Newkirk, who missed league play last year with an injury, leads St. Joe’s with 17.6 points. 4.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists. James Demery isn’t far behind with 17.3 points and 5.4 rebounds.

Freshman Taylor Funk is one of the leagues best young big men. The 6-foot-9 forward is averaging 13.6 points and 4.5 rebounds, but also boasts a 44.3 3-point percentage, which puts him sixth in the conference. His 3.1 made 3s per game leads the A-10.

“He’s one of those guys you’d love to have because he can space the floor at the power forward spot,” McCall said. “The things he’s doing as a freshman. He’s fun to watch on film.”

NO UPDATE ON HOLLOWAY — UMass junior big man Rashaan Holloway’s status remains unchanged. The suspended big man isn’t expected to play against the Hawks.

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