Notebook: Samba Diallo continuing to shine as glue guy for UMass

  • Samba Diallo, right, of UMass, shoots after getting past Paul Atkinson, of Yale, Dec. 11 at the Mullins Center. Diallo finished with his second consecutive double-double – 12 points and 12 rebounds – and led the Minutemen with six assists and three steals in a win over La Salle on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/8/2020 11:36:22 PM
Modified: 1/8/2020 11:35:47 PM

AMHERST — To listen to Samba Diallo explain basketball, it sounds like the easiest sport in the world.

If a teammate is open, pass him the basketball; if there is a loose basketball, just go get it. Nothing about Diallo’s game is overly complicated and there isn’t much thought put into anything. It’s a simple philosophy that can explain how Diallo has grown into a glue player for UMass.

In Wednesday’s 77-69 win over La Salle, Diallo was far from the flashiest player on the court. The only time people may have noticed him was when he flew in for an offensive rebound late in the game to help UMass milk some more time off the clock. Yet he finished with his second consecutive double-double – 12 points and 12 rebounds – and led the Minutemen with six assists and three steals.

The fact Diallo is now leading UMass at 6.4 rebounds per game is just par for the course for the sophomore.

“I just go out there and play basketball, if I see the ball up there, I’m going to get it,” Diallo said. “It’s what I do in practice, it’s what I do in games, it’s what I do every time I step on the floor. Nothing is surprising about it.”

Coach Matt McCall has never lowered expectations for the Sengalese forward, either, while continuing to hype up the sophomore’s potential. Before the season, he talked about how Diallo could be one of the best on-ball defenders in the Atlantic 10 if he continued to play as hard as he does on defense. Earlier this week, the coach said Diallo could lead the league in rebounds eventually, and his 26 rebounds through two conference games is just one off St. Bonaventure’s Osun Osunniyi for the conference lead.

“He’s so ferocious out there that I think he could be one of the best rebounders in the league and embrace that,” McCall said. “Our staff always talks to him about Dennis Rodman, be that guy. Just be that guy without all the antics and all that comes with it.”

Yet what has turned Diallo into a critical player for the Minutemen this season is the confidence he’s showing on the offensive end of the floor. He looks far more composed with the ball in his hand than he did last season, and his offensive contributions have doubled. He’s already scored in double figures in six of UMass’ 15 games, something he never did once in 25 games last season.

“I’m very comfortable, I can play free and not think about anything,” Diallo said. “That plays a big role in (my performance).”

PIERRE 1K — With his buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the first half, Carl Pierre became the 52nd UMass player to score 1,000 career points. The junior – who has earned the nickname Mr. UMass from his teammates – needed just 14 points to reach the milestone and finished with 20 in the victory. He accomplished the feat in just 80 games and his career scoring average is up to 12.6 points per game.

EAST GROWING PAINS — In the first few games of his college career, Sean East II didn’t look like a freshman point guard.

The Louisville, Kentucky, native was dishing out assists in bunches and taking care of the basketball at the same time. In UMass’ five-game winning streak to start the season, he racked up 34 assists and had just seven turnovers as he looked in complete control of the offense.

Lately, however, East’s assist-to-turnover ratio has plummeted closer to 1:1 as he has gained more confidence running the show. For just the third time in his first 15 games, East had more turnovers (six) than assists (five) against La Salle. In his last eight games, East has dished out 41 helpers but done so while committing 33 turnovers.

“At times, he tried to do too much,” McCall said. “We’ve got to continue to coach Sean. Everyone was all up in arms at the end of the game when he took the quick one, you could feel the emotion behind you. I’m trying to get everybody calmed down and coach him. You don’t want to take away who he is as a player, but you’ve got to tell him ‘time and score here. We need to run this shot clock down to seven or eight seconds then get a basket.’ I don’t worry about him. He’s in his first season in college and he’s going to make some mistakes out there and he’s going to do some really special things.”

WORST FOR WEEKS — McCall announced after the game that freshman guard T.J. Weeks will have season-ending surgery on his hernia Friday. Recovery for the Warwick, Rhode Island, native is expected to last three to four months. The positive for UMass is that McCall was confident Weeks would be granted a medical redshirt and thus will still have four years of eligibility starting next year.


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