Amherst, MA – The UMass Minutemen and the La Salle Explorers kicked off their Atlantic 10 slate at the Mullins Center. At the end of a defensive battle, the visitors grinded out an important 69-60 win. Down the stretch, the Explorers displayed great poise and patience and made big shots at the end of the clock to keep pace with the Minutemen. In the final 1:39, the visitors connected on 15-of-17 at the free throw line to build as much of a 10-point lead. Guard Pookie Powell scored all 17 of his points in the second half and junior guard Saul Phiri added 20 points and six rebounds for the Explorers. Junior guard Luwane Pipkins lead the Minutemen with 15 points but struggled to put the ball in the basket throughout the night.
Powell had an outstanding second half for the Explorers and was a huge contributor to their big win. Following a first half that would best be described as ‘lethargic’, he came out with a lot of energy in the second half while consistently making plays for the visitors. The offense for his team began to flow once he began driving the ball and collapsing the defense. His drive and kicks eventually lead to a couple of open makes from beyond the arc, which forced the Minutemen defenders to not collapse enough, thus allowing Powell to get into more one-on-one situations. Once the floor opened for him, he was easily able to get to the rim and finish or draw fouls on Minutemen defenders. With his ongoing success, he became louder on the floor and did a great job directing his teammates to their positions on offense. Defensively, he was engaged throughout the night and helped make things as difficult as possible on Pipkins and was very active in the passing lanes, recording two steals and forcing Minutemen guards into tough positions offensively.
Phiri displayed great clutch shooting and terrific defense throughout the night in his best scoring effort at the collegiate level. The Massachusetts’ native connected on all four of his triples in the final 10 seconds of the shot clock and bailed out four possessions in which the UMass defense was outstanding. All four of his makes were contested in spot up situations, but it did not matter. He scored the Explorers’ final six points from the foul line, where he finished 8-of-8 in the game. Defensively, he was very active in the passing lanes and did a great job closing out to shooters, thus recording four steals and one blocked shot.
Pipkins led the Minutemen in scoring for the ninth time this season. This time, though, he struggled mightily to make shots, connecting on just 3-of-16 and turned the ball over four times. All his makes came in the second half in which he scored 13 of his 15 points. His impact on the game, however, was undeniable. He made plays for his teammates on and off the ball, but ultimately, he did not produce the offensive game that his team needed from him. Defensively, he made a lot of hustle plays and recorded four steals and seven rebounds. His defensive footwork was on full display as he beat the Explorers’ guards to the spot on multiple occasions, drawing charges or forcing errant passes.
Another active Minuteman was Curtis Cobb. The 6-4 redshirt junior guard scored six points, but his effort on both ends of the floor was worth a lot of praise. Offensively, he was always moving with good pace and trying to get open, eventually connecting on only 2-of-6 threes, most of which were wide-open. He consistently attacked the glass on both ends of the floor and helped create multiple second chance opportunities. Defensively, he put on a show as the baseline man in a 1-3-1 zone that the Minutemen ran a lot during the game. His communication with his teammates was outstanding, he did a nice job getting in the passing lanes, recording two steals, and affected quite a few shots near the rim with his length once the defense broke down. In man-to-man, he consistently beat opposing players to the spot and drew multiple charges. He displayed great stamina and played for 30 minutes despite sprinting a lot up and down the floor and across the baselines.
Takeaways: The La Salle guards made a lot of tough shots at the end of the shot clock, while showing great composure under pressure. They connected on 9-of-22 from beyond the arc and 18-of-21 at the charity stripe. The Minutemen prepared a great defensive game plan to stop La Salle from getting any offensive rhythm but missed a lot of open shots offensively. They seemed to be two ahead defensively and three steps slow offensively, which speaks to their commitment on the defensive end of the floor. 19-of-52 shooting days usually do not end up very well in the final score.
Up Next: The Explorers (3-10, 1-0) will visit VCU (10-4, 1-0) on January 9th. UMass (7-7, 0-1) will pay a visit to Saint Louis (9-4, 0-0).