UMass men’s basketball must stay disciplined against Saint Joseph’s

  • Keon Clergeot, center, of UMass, drives through Fordham defenders Chuba Ohams, from left, Nick Honor and Onyi Eyisi, Feb. 6 at the Mullins Center. Clergeot is questionable for Saturday’s game against Saint Joseph’s with a hand injury. STAFF FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/22/2019 8:01:45 PM

AMHERST — UMass has itself a fouling problem.

It has become a theme for coach Matt McCall to look at the box score after the game and lament the discrepancy in free throws. Already five times in 13 Atlantic 10 games, teams have taken at least 10 more free throws than the Minutemen.

Conference foes are averaging 22.3 foul shots per game and making nearly 75 percent of those attempts. In total, 24 percent of the points UMass has allowed in conference play has come with the clock stopped during free throws.

“We foul too much,” McCall said. “One of our values is discipline and we’re not disciplined and that’s why we foul too much and we don’t get to the free-throw line.”

The other side of the coin is even more stark for UMass (9-17, 2-11 Atlantic 10). Twice during conference play, the Minutemen have attempted five or fewer free throws and they have only attempted more free throws than their opponent three times in 21 games since the week of Thanksgiving.

What was a strength of McCall’s offense in his two years at Chattanooga has become UMass’ biggest weakness this season.

“We play too much on the perimeter, the ball moves around the perimeter too much, we don’t put enough pressure on the paint,” McCall said. “When I was at Chattanooga, we were running the same stuff and one of the things we did better than anybody in our league was get to the foul line. ... Whether it was off dribble penetration or off our ball-screen motion, getting in the lane and not just cranking 3s or passing the ball, (we were) trying to get paint touches constantly.”

SAVING ITS BEST — After two solid efforts against teams in the top four of the Atlantic 10 standings, UMass didn’t have the same energy in a critical game Wednesday against George Washington. It has been the trend for the Minutemen all season, but it has been especially prevalent in conference play.

The Minutemen have a win over second-place Davidson and had shots to win or tie on the road at third-place Dayton and fifth-place Saint Louis. They played two tight games with George Mason as well, and the Patriots are in fourth place.

Meanwhile, UMass was embarrassed at home by Fordham, which is technically tied with the Minutemen at the bottom of the conference, and came out flat against George Washington, which entered the game just one win above UMass in the standings.

“It’s been a theme all year, the better the competition, the better we’ve played,” McCall said. “... It’s a focus level, it’s culture, that’s what it is. It’s not what we’re doing or what we’re running or what we’re doing in practice, it’s none of that, it’s an intensity and a care and a focus level.”

What perhaps was particularly frustrating for McCall is that UMass should have received a boost against the Colonials on Wednesday with the return of Luwane Pipkins. Instead, the team didn’t rise to the occasion of potentially pulling itself out of the conference cellar.

“It was a collective effort by our group wasn’t there at all,” McCall said. “And that’s the disappointing piece with our livelihood is on the line, the season is on the line, to come out with that little effort when our effort for the most part out of probably Fordham wasn’t there.”

QUESTIONABLE — Keon Clergeot is questionable for Saturday’s 2 p.m. contest against Saint Joseph’s (11-15, 4-9) after leaving Wednesday’s game with a hand injury. McCall also said he isn’t sure if Pipkins will be back in the starting lineup for the Minutemen, regardless of whether or not Clergeot is available. Curtis Cobb is still out with his ankle injury.

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