UMass offense slowed in loss to La Salle

  • Keon Clergeot, back, of UMass, launches a 3-pointer from the top of the key over LaSalle’s Jared Kimbrough, in the second half, Saturday at the Mullins Center. J. Anthony Roberts

  • UMass guard Luwane Pipkins, right, fires a 3-pointer over LaSalle’s Isiah Deas, in the second half, Saturday at the Mullins Center. J. Anthony Roberts

Staff Writer
Published: 1/5/2019 9:17:59 PM

AMHERST — The Atlantic 10 opener was supposed to be a day for UMass to hit the reset button on a disappointing nonconference season. Instead, it left the Minutemen with far more questions than it had entering the game.

For three weeks, coach Matt McCall was concerned about correcting UMass’ defensive mentality and trusting the A-10’s best offense would continue to produce. Yet when the defense finally played up to McCall’s standards Saturday, it was the offense that faltered in a frustrating fashion.

Now McCall is back at the drawing board trying to fix an offense that looked broken for most of the 69-60 loss to La Salle at the Mullins Center.

“Are we generating good shots and just missing them? If that’s the case, that’s a concentration thing and we’ve got to do better and do more individual instruction and more reps and more shots,” McCall said. “If it’s not us generating enough open looks, now we need to look at doing some different things.”

Most of McCall’s frustration surrounded the Minutemen’s inability to work the ball down to fifth-year senior Rashaan Holloway in the post. The center took only two shots – and made them both – and didn’t have many other touches in a game where La Salle had no match for him physically. McCall called Holloway the “most dominant player in the Atlantic 10” and deemed it a “travesty” that he only took two shots in a game UMass (7-7, 0-1 Atlantic 10) couldn’t find any rhythm on offense.

“He’s unguardable and we need to look at what we’re doing and why we’re not getting him the ball more,” McCall said. “Are we missing him? Is it what we’re running? Are we looking him off? But for him to take two shots in a game where we’re really struggling to score is a major problem, and we’ve got to get that corrected.”

Holloway’s struggles to earn touches on the interior were caused in some part by La Salle’s defensive strategy. The Explorers (3-10, 1-0 A-10) used their guard-heavy lineup to pressure the Minutemen’s ballhandlers and try to prevent the ball from getting into Luwane Pipkins’ hands.

Although that pressure sometimes left Holloway open, La Salle coach Ashley Howard was gambling on UMass not being able to see Holloway in time to fire a pass to him.

“There’s going to be times when he’s open and they miss him,” Howard said. “I wanted to make sure every time any of those guys had the ball on the perimeter – in particular on a 45-degree angle – that we were pressuring the ball and making those post-entry passes difficult. We were telling our young forwards to play defense with their feet and don’t make it a wrestling match (because) you can’t win a wrestling match with that dude. They did a really good job of that.”

The Minutemen’s offensive struggles began with some unfriendly rims early in the game. UMass made just 1-of-10 shots from 3-point range in the first half, but roughly half of those misses were open looks where the ball was inside the rim at some point before rattling out. Those looks came because of how well UMass was moving the ball around the perimeter and finding its shooters in their preferred locations.

But as the shots stopped falling, the passing wasn’t as fluid and the trouble began for the Minutemen. More than half of UMass’ second-half shots came from behind the arc and six of its nine made attempts were 3-pointers. It was a symptom of the offense devolving into isolation plays with individuals trying to will the ball into the hoop themselves.

“In the first half, we got a lot of open shots, they really just weren’t falling,” junior Curtis Cobb said. “If we would have played the same way, they would have started falling, but we kind of got away from trying to move the ball a little bit and tried to do a lot more 1-on-1.”

UMass also struggled to push the pace and convert on the stops it was making on the defensive end. It scored just four points in transition, all of which were in the first half, and wasted several possessions by trying to do too much on the break.

Cobb exemplified this in the first half when he took the outlet pass from Pipkins after a Djery Baptiste block and went in for a dunk, but missed the hoop completely when he looked undecided between going for the simple layup or completing the dunk.

“We were getting stops, but we weren’t scoring in transition,” McCall said. “We missed a layup in the first half that was a pretty big play off a miss or a steal, and we just didn’t finish it. Those plays, you’ve got to be more disciplined and use the glass and make a layup.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at

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