UMass grits out win over league-leading Davidson

  • The UMass bench erupts after Keon Clergeot hits a go-ahead 3-pointer against Davidson with five seconds left, Saturday at the Mullins Center. UMass won 54-51. J. Anthony Roberts

  • UMass guard Keon Clergeot, left, launches a floater in the lane over Davidson’s Dusan Kovacevic, Saturday at the Mullins Center. J. Anthony Roberts

  • UMass guard Tre Wood launches a 3-pointer from the left elbow over Davidson’s Jon Axel Gudmundsson, left, and Luke Frampton, Saturday at the Mullins Center. J. Anthony Roberts

  • Samba Diallo, center, of UMass, drives to the rim over Carter Collins, of Davidson, Saturday at the Mullins Center. J. Anthony Roberts

  • UMass center Rashaan Holloway, center, shoots over Luka Brajkovic, left, Saturday at the Mullins Center. J. Anthony Roberts

  • Samba Diallo, of UMass, attacks the rim over Davidson’s Luke Frampton, Saturday at the Mullins Center. J. ANTHONY ROBERTS

  • UMass guard Carl Pierre launches a 3-pointer from the corner over Davidson’s Kellan Grady, Saturday at the Mullins Center. J. Anthony Roberts

  • UMass big man Djery Baptiste, center, battles for position with Davidson’s Luka Brajkovic, left, Luke Frampton, Saturday at the Mullins Center. J. Anthony Roberts

Staff Writer
Published: 2/9/2019 4:47:59 PM

AMHERST — Keon Clergeot was supposed to pass the ball to Carl Pierre coming off a screen.

At least, that was the play designed by Matt McCall when he called timeout with UMass and Davidson tied with 34.2 seconds left. Clergeot was supposed to dribble the clock down and let the action play out in front of him as the Minutemen ran the same play they did the previous possession, but with a little twist that would end with Pierre, who had already scored 23 points, getting a shot to win the game.

Instead, Clergeot saw an opening when Davidson’s Kellan Grady was caught off guard by a screen, and the redshirt sophomore launched a 25-foot fall-back 3-pointer. The shot went in effortlessly with five seconds left and lifted UMass to an improbable 54-51 win over Atlantic 10-leading Davidson on Saturday at the Mullins Center.

“I saw that Grady, he didn’t see the screen coming,” Clergeot said. “The hedge (guy), he wasn’t there, so I just shot it.”

Clergeot’s 3-pointer was the culmination of the gutsiest effort UMass has put together this season, especially coming on the heels of its worst performance of the year. The Minutemen won all the hustle stats, collecting 13 offensive rebounds as part of a 36-27 edge on the glass. They showcased an edge and passion that was sorely missing from Wednesday’s debacle against Fordham.

It all came to a head in a chaotic final two minutes that featured four official reviews. Samba Diallo drained a corner 3-pointer to put the Minutemen up two with 1:36 left. Jon Axel Gudmundsson tied the game on Davidson’s next possession and Luka Brajkovic blocked Clergeot’s layup attempt on the first run of McCall’s game-ending play.

Yet the Minutemen buckled down on defense and gave themselves one more chance after Gudmundsson missed a layup and the rebound bounced out of bounds. Clergeot hit his 3-pointer and then sealed the game by diving on a loose ball as the final seconds ticked away after Davidson intentionally missed a free throw.

“It hasn’t been the easiest of weeks, especially for our guys,” McCall said. “Practicing at odd hours and over in the Cage and away from the comfort of their own building. It hasn’t been the easiest of weeks and to come in here against the best team in the league and show that kind of resilience, I was really, really proud.”

Pierre was the hero of the first 37 minutes of the game for UMass (9-15, 2-9 Atlantic 10), at least on the offensive end. The sophomore made 8 of 12 shots, including 5 of 7 from behind the arc, to contribute half of the Minutemen’s offensive output. His teammates combined to score the same 23 points by making 9 of 35 from the field.

The Boston native hit his first 3-pointer of the game, and it infused him with a swagger that permeated through the rest of his game. He scored 10 straight points for UMass over a seven-minute stretch, starting with a thunderous two-handed dunk on a baseline drive and ending with his fifth 3-point make of the day.

“I was just playing confident and attack on every possession,” Pierre said. “A big thanks to my teammates for giving me confidence and looking for me, I think it showed today.”

Diallo filled the role of unsung hero for the Minutemen on defense, playing a key role in disrupting Davidson’s offensive rhythm. UMass switched on every ball screen, and oftentimes that left Diallo guarding Grady, who entered the game as the A-10’s third-leading scorer. The defensive effort limited Grady to just four points on 1 of 10 shooting while holding the Wildcats (17-6, 8-2 A-10) to just 14 3-point attempts.

“Our switching caused them some problems, especially Samba, I thought Samba was terrific,” McCall said. “You can see sometimes I’m screaming at him about where to go on offense, but defensively, he changes the game.”

With leading scorer Luwane Pipkins out for a second straight game while dealing with a hamstring injury, McCall switched up his starting lineup. Clergeot, Pierre and Diallo were joined by Djery Baptiste and Unique McLean on the court for the opening tip, and that group played a bulk of the minutes for the Minutemen.

The lineup was born out of Friday’s competitive early-morning practice, which McCall said that group dominated. Pierre said there was a different energy around that group during the practice that translated into a gritty effort Saturday.

“The five that we played (Saturday), we were just connected,” Pierre said. “We were talking out there, huddling and just trying to stay on one page whether that’s on defense or offense. Just always talking through it and staying as connected as possible.”

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