McCall blames self as George Washington blows out UMass, 75-51

  • UMass head coach Matt McCall coaches from the sideline during a game against George Washington, Saturday at the Mullins Center in Amherst. J. ANTHONY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/18/2020 10:11:08 PM

AMHERST — Matt McCall sat dejected and sullen at his postgame press conference, his voice measured but far quieter than normal.

There really wasn’t much the third-year UMass coach could say in the moments after a 75-51 loss to George Washington, Saturday at the Mullins Center. The two teams came into the game with identical records and both had went toe-to-toe with some of the league’s best teams early in the season.

Yet it was the Colonials who looked composed under first-year coach Jamion Christian while the Minutemen looked frazzled. There was only one place McCall could place the blame for that loss, and he owned up to it.

“I’m not a very good coach right now, call it like it is,” McCall said. “I’m doing a bad job right now because you can’t play at the level that we’ve shown we’re capable of playing at then go out there and perform like that. I think that’s coaching. I’m very upset with myself more than anything.”

His most controversial decision of the game was leaving Tre Mitchell on the bench for the final 9 minutes, 29 seconds of the first half after the freshman picked up his second foul. UMass (7-11, 1-4 Atlantic 10) was able to cut the deficit to five in the first three minutes after Djery Baptiste was inserted into the game.

But George Washington (8-10, 2-3) responded with a 14-3 run that pushed its lead to 16 at halftime. The Minutemen missed all six of their shots in the final six minutes of the half and also committed three turnovers while missing their best offensive player.

“I was talking to the staff, there was a point there where it was (an eight-point) game with five minutes to go in the first half and I was like ‘all right, if we can keep this around 10 or get it to six and keep it there, let’s just leave him on the bench and not pick up his third,’” McCall said. “It never really got that and the game got going up and down and got sloppy and there just wasn’t really an opportunity to get him back in there. Then we had some defensive possessions where it was deadballs, and I was like ‘well, we can’t.’”

The Minutemen had their chances in the second half with Mitchell in the game and went on a 19-5 run over a six-minute stretch to trim the George Washington lead to eight at the second media timeout. How both teams responded after that break with 11:24 remaining ultimately decided the game.

The Colonials emerged from that timeout, scored the next 10 points and kept UMass scoreless for more than four minutes in the process. Meanwhile, UMass couldn’t muster a counterpunch to the George Washington spurt and never cut the lead below 16 points for the final seven minutes.

“Great teams have the ability to have great composure and an ability to really reset,” Christian said. “We’re establishing that. We’re not there yet, but we’re establishing our mindset and ability to take a breath and reset when the moment’s big.”

The only reason UMass was able to make a comeback to get back into the game was McCall’s decision to play a rarely used zone defense. The Colonials committed six of their 13 turnovers during that stretch. McCall said in hindsight he would have used the zone more based on the success it had.

“We changed defenses, we ended up going zone because we can’t guard anyone off the bounce,” McCall said. “We really started to introduce it going into Saint Louis, ... but it’s something we’re trying to work on consistently because we can’t guard the ball. We had some success with it (Saturday) and I should have gone back to it (more) in the second half.”

Even the zone, though, couldn’t hide the glaring weakness UMass showed when the game was played in half-court sets. George Washington shot 57 percent from the floor in the second half and got to the basket with ease against the Minutemen’s man-to-man defense. Meanwhile, UMass struggled to run its offense and ended up with Mitchell playing closer to the perimeter and Sean East trying to drive the ball in isolation.

When the Minutemen were on their run to cut into the lead in the second half, it came when the pace was frenetic and they were able to score baskets in transition. When UMass wasn’t able to push the pace as much, there were plenty of moments where McCall admitted he needs to do a better job as a coach to help his players execute.

“I’ve got to look at what we’re doing, we’ve got to get a lot better,” McCall said. “We cannot guard a middle pick-and-roll to save our life. We’ve always been a team that can do that. Ever since I’ve been a head coach, pick-and-roll defense has been a strong suit. It’s not different than on offense, whatever we’re doing right now, we need to do it better and change things.”

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