Luwane Pipkins scores 44 as UMass roars back to beat La Salle

  • Guard Luwane Pipkins drives to the basket during UMass' 86-79 overtime win over La Salle, Wednesday at the Mullins Center. Thom Kendall Photography

  • Guard Luwane Pipkins attempts a shot during UMass' 86-79 overtime win over La Salle, Wednesday at the Mullins Center. Thom Kendall Photography

  • Guard Luwane Pipkins celebrates during UMass’ 86-79 overtime win over La Salle, Wednesday at the Mullins Center. Thom Kendall Photography

Thursday, January 11, 2018

AMHERST — Less than two minutes into the second half, the UMass men’s basketball team looked dead. Mirroring the similarly lifeless Mullins Center, the Minutemen fell behind by 21 points to La Salle. The connectivity in his team that UMass coach Matt McCall raved about in Saturday’s win over Dayton was notably missing at that point.

But the 2,056 fans who suffered through the first half were treated to a memorable game the rest of the way thanks to Luwane Pipkins. The sophomore guard had 31 of his school-record 44 points in the second half and overtime, and led the Minutemen to an 86-79 win Wednesday.

“I’m feeling good,” Pipkins said smiling. “My body hurts though. ... I just kept being aggressive. Coaches told me to fight through the pain. I made shots.”

After he completed a three-point play with 3 minutes, 55 seconds left to tie the game at 66, he scored six more in a row to give the Minutemen a 72-66 lead with 2:19 left in regulation.

Isaiah Deas, who had 17 second-half points, made two 3-pointers to tie the game 72-72 with 1:20 left. After Rayshawn Miller missed a 3-pointer for UMass, Pookie Powell hit a layup with 43 seconds left to give the Explorers the lead, 74-72.

Pipkins drove to the basket and Powell reached in sending the UMass guard to the line. He made both free throws with 25 seconds left to make it 74-74.

Powell had a shot to win, but his jumper with four seconds left was off the mark and C.J. Anderson (nine rebounds, five assists, four steals, one point) grabbed the rebound forcing overtime.

With one of Pipkins’ various ailments slowing him down briefly to start overtime, Carl Pierre (25 points) opened the extra session with a 3-point play. He then stretched UMass’ edge to 79-74 with 2:28 left with a short jumper.

Powell broke the overtime ice for the Explorers, but couldn’t complete the and-one as UMass led 79-76 with 2:14 left.

Pipkins capped his masterpiece and sealed the game with back-to-back 3-pointers with 1:44 and 1:04 left to push his team’s edge to 85-76.

“We were completely flat in the first half. We played with zero desperation,” McCall said. “But to show fight and get back into the game and find a way to win showed me great resilience. I’m really really proud of them.”

For a while the second half was an entertaining scoring duel between Pipkins and Pookie Powell (30 points, eight rebounds, four assists), but Powell ran out of gas and Pipkins sped by him.

UMass trailed 58-47 when Pipkins’ pace went from memorable to historic. He had 21 of the team’s last 27 points, shooting 8-for-10 from the field in that stretch.

“It’s unreal watching that,” Pierre said shaking his head. “When you see a guy who is just cooking, there’s not anything anyone on the floor can do about it. Whatever he chooses to shoot, it’s going down. It’s super fun to watch.”

The Minutemen, who are prone to sleepy starts, fell behind 8-2, as La Salle rode a rare offensive outburst by center Tony Washington. When Pipkins scored five straight points to make it 8-7 with 15:20 left, UMass appeared to have settled. Instead, La Salle scored nine straight points. The visitors controlled the remainder of the half and led 41-25 at intermission.

McCall stressed that the win belonged to more than Pipkins, singling out each individual player’s contributions.

“The performance by Pipkins, I’ve never seen anything like that before,” McCall said. “But everyone contributed to this win tonight.”

UMass (9-8, 2-2 A-10) hosts Saint Joseph’s, Sunday at 5 p.m.

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