Notebook: Frustration starting to take its toll on Minutemen

  • UMass head coach Matt McCall reacts during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against St. John's, Nov. 24 in Uncasville, Conn. AP

Staff Writer
Published: 12/7/2019 6:19:15 PM

BOSTON — Midway through the first half, it became clear something was different with UMass.

For the first time all season, there was visible negative energy on the faces of the Minutemen and there wasn’t much anyone could say to calm the tide. With every questionable foul call, missed shot, missed defensive assignment, the frustration seemed to build for a team entering Saturday’s game at Harvard on a four-game losing skid.

The 89-55 drubbing the Crimson delivered the Minutemen pushed that streak to five, but Saturday was the culmination of two weeks of close calls and missed opportunities against Power Five opponents.

“(Saturday) was just a boiling point and it showed in our body language and whatnot,” junior Carl Pierre said. “We just need to stay the course and know that we’re still a young team, it’s still early in the season and we just need to keep pressing forward.”

In those close losses to Virginia and South Carolina in the past two weeks, UMass could look back and see a play here or there that could have been the difference in the game. That wasn’t the case against Harvard as UMass wasn’t competitive in the final 39 minutes after Pierre tied the game with the first shot of the game for the Minutemen.

Coach Matt McCall said he thought the selfish nature with which the Minutemen played against the Crimson led to some of the visible frustration, but that the past few games might have played a toll in the emotions Saturday.

“We felt like in this stretch we’ve given a couple of games away, that wasn’t the case (Saturday),” McCall said. “We got in our own way. It’s not necessarily a basketball piece that we have got to get corrected, it’s we’ve got to stand for something and be about all the right things every single day.”

MISSED OPPORTUNITY — McCall put a special emphasis on containing Bryce Aiken and Chris Lewis, changing his starting lineup to deal with Harvard’s best players. The Minutemen limited them to just 13 points in 30 combined minutes as both Aiken and Lewis were in foul trouble for most of the game. But UMass couldn’t capitalize on a run with those two on the bench and never cut into the 17-point halftime deficit.

“We did a good job on Aiken, we got him in foul trouble,” McCall said. “Both him and Lewis were on the bench in the second half and it felt like maybe we could make a push or maybe we could make a run, and it never really happened.”

GETTING TECHNICAL — For the third time in six games, McCall was assessed a technical foul for arguing a goaltending call with 29 seconds left in the first half. It was a questionable whistle because it was the referee furthest from the basket who whistled the goaltending violation on Preston Santos, and television replays showed the ball was still in the upward part of its trajectory when Santos blocked the shot.

McCall said he disagreed with the call and was hoping his passion would inspire his team.

ON THE REBOUND — After the loss to South Carolina on Wednesday, Pierre said he thought UMass lacked a sense of urgency until its late rally in the final minutes of the game. After another lackluster effort, Pierre said UMass needs to respond with its best practices of the season as the Minutemen prepare for Wednesday’s game against Yale at the Mullins Center.

“It starts in practice,” Pierre said. “We have to go back to the drawing board and have a couple of tough practices leading into next week.”

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