UMass hopes to ride energy wave into matchup with Saint Joseph’s

  • UMass freshman center Tre Mitchell reacts after Duquesne’s Sincere Carry was called for a hard elbow to Keon Clergeot, getting up from the floor just behind Mitchell, in the first half of the Minutemen’s 73-64 win over the Dukes at the Mullins Center in Amherst on Saturday. At left is sophomore forward Dibaji Walker. STAFF FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • UMass junior guard Carl Pierre, right, gets past a press by Tavian Dunn-Martin of Duquesne in the first half of the Minutemen's 73-64 win over the Dukes at the Mullins Center in Amherst on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • UMass head coach Matt McCall shouts to his players in the first half Saturday.

  • UMass freshman center Tre Mitchell works around Baylee Steele, left, of Duquesne as Dukes head coach Keith Dambrot watches from the sideline in the first half of the Minutemen's 73-64 win over Duquesne at the Mullins Center in Amherst on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • UMass freshmen Preston Santos, center, and Kolton Mitchell, right, had their first career starts on Saturday as the Minutemen defeated Duquesne, 73-64, at the Mullins Center in Amherst on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. At left is assistant coach Tony Bergeron. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • UMass freshman Preston Santos, left, guards Ashton Miller of Duquesne in the first half of the Minutemen's 73-64 win over the Dukes at the Mullins Center in Amherst on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • UMass head coach Matt McCall shouts to his players in the first half of the Minutemen's 73-64 win over Duquesne at the Mullins Center in Amherst on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • UMass sophomore forward Dibaji Walker shoots underneath pressure from Maceo Austin, right, of Duquesne in the first half of the Minutemen's 73-64 win over the Dukes at the Mullins Center in Amherst on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • UMass junior guard Carl Pierre, center, puts his arms around freshmen Tre Mitchell, left, and Sean East II after Mitchell was fouled on a basket against Duquesne in the first half of the Minutemen's 73-64 win over the Dukes at the Mullins Center in Amherst on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • UMass redshirt junior guard Keon Clergeot, right, looks for an opening under Sincere Carry of Duquesne in the first half of the Minutemen’s 73-64 win over the Dukes at the Mullins Center in Amherst on Saturday. STAFF FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 1/28/2020 9:11:25 PM

AMHERST — It all started last Thursday for UMass.

In the wake of a 12th loss in the last 14 games, the Minutemen were challenged in a new way by the coaching staff. There was no coddling of egos, just a harsh truth being blasted at the players like water from a fire hose. The tactic was likely unpleasant to watch, but it was effective for UMass and lit a much-needed spark under the team.

UMass came out Saturday and outworked, outhustled and out-efforted Duquesne for 40 minutes for a critical 73-64 victory. It was a direct response to the previous 48 hours of tough love from the coaches.

“We just took a long look in the mirror and said we’re sick of this,” freshman guard Kolton Mitchell said. “I hate losing, I’ve lost more here than I have in a long time, and that feeling is terrible. You compare that feeling to the feeling of winning, and everybody just came together and said whatever we have to do to win and be successful, we’re going to do it.”

The key to success against Duquesne was the toughness plays that have been a weakness for the Minutemen under coach Matt McCall. UMass finished with 52 rebounds against the Dukes – the most the program has corralled in 11 years – and worked its way to the foul line for 35 free throws. The fact both categories went in the Minutemen’s favor by double figures was a testament, McCall said, to how hard and tough UMass (8-12, 2-5 Atlantic 10) played Saturday.

The question, though, is if that energy and effort will translate over to Wednesday’s game against Saint Joseph’s (4-16, 0-7). McCall said that commitment and toughness is vital to any future victories in a difficult, veteran conference like the Atlantic 10.

“We’ve got to play that way,” McCall said. “There’s going to be nights where we struggle, but can we get easy baskets off things like offensive rebounds.”

One way McCall is hoping to keep the energy coursing through the Minutemen is to stick with the starting lineup that earned plaudits for their performance against Duquesne. The additions of energy guys like Mitchell and freshman Preston Santos around the core of Samba Diallo, Carl Pierre and Tre Mitchell, added the necessary jolt to the team that started off the rush.

Kolton Mitchell said he could feel a different vibe about the team when he was on the court because of the effort he was trying to bring every second. Combine that with Santos, whose athleticism was already a source of energy for the Minutemen, and it was “like a chemical reaction,” Mitchell said that led to the strong start to Saturday’s win.

“Energy is contagious and once you bring that, everyone brings it and it’s fun to watch,” Kolton Mitchell said.

Carl Pierre has been around for several of these potential momentum-building wins in his first three seasons at UMass, but rarely has it led to any sustained success. The Minutemen didn’t win back-to-back conference games at all last season, including following up its upset victory over Davidson with an overtime loss at George Mason. The Minutemen haven’t actually won consecutive regular-season league games since a three-game streak that began with a big win at Dayton in early January during the 2017-18 season. Yet UMass lost 11 of its next 12 after that three-game high to finish 5-13 in conference.

Pierre said his message to the young UMass team is to continue to be locked in and focused and remember that every game is important, no matter the opponent or their record.

“It was a big win, but we’ve got another game then one after that,” Pierre said. “We have to be prepared for every single one of them.”

Just as an added incentive for his players, McCall continued to play the respect card Tuesday with his team. He said he wants to make sure his players understand that one win doesn’t make a season and that they need to repeat that effort against Saint Joseph’s. He pointed out that even though the Hawks don’t have a conference win, their four wins all came against quality opponents and they’ve been competitive in many of their losses to the best teams in the A10.

“We haven’t done anything,” McCall said. “I don’t care what anybody’s record is, they’re coming in here to compete and win the game and they’re fully capable of beating us. We have to play with a chip on our shoulder like we have something to prove because no one out there respects us, they feel like they can come in here and beat us.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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