Massachusetts beat the snowstorm and arrived in the Dayton area two days before a 3:30 p.m. Sunday game against the Dayton Flyers at UD Arena. The Minutemen made the most of the extra time by visiting Top Golf in West Chester on Friday.
With two straight losses to open Atlantic 10 Conference play and a 7-8 record almost halfway into the season, UMass may have needed the diversion. Of course, if last season is any indication, playing the Flyers might provide just the jolt it needs.
In a matchup of new A-10 coaches in 2018, the protege got the best of the mentor twice. Matt McCall, who coached with Anthony Grant on Billy Donovan’s staff at Florida, beat Grant twice by a total of six points: 62-60 at UD Arena and 86-82 in double overtime in Amherst.
» PREVIEW: What you need to know about Sunday’s game
A year later, Dayton (10-5, 2-0), which has won five straight games, has moved ahead of UMass in the rebuilding game. Now it has to prove it on the court.
“They’re a team that plays to their coach’s identity,” Grant said Friday. “They’re a tough, gritty team. They’re going to fight you for everything. You look at some of the games they’ve had this year. They’re really close. They’re right there. I know coming in, their record doesn’t indicate how good they are.”
Here are three things to know about this game:
1. Stopping Pipkins: UMass star Luwane Pipkins scored 17 points againts Dayton as a freshman in a 67-55 victory in Amherst and totalled 53 points against Dayton last season. He made the key shot in the second game: a desperation, tie-breaking 3-pointer with the shot clock expiring with 55 seconds left in the second overtime.
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Pipkins ranks second in the A-10 in scoring (19.5 points per game) even though his 3-point accuracy has dropped from 42.6 to 30.4. He has made 5 of 41 (12.2 percent) 3-pointers in the last six games.
“He’s elite in terms of his ability to score the basketball, but he does it in a variety of ways,” Grant said. “He also has the talent to make others around him better.”
2. Strong shooters: Although Pipkins has struggled from behind the arc, his team leads the A-10 in 3-point accuracy (35.9). It ranks third in overall field-goal percentage (46.7), a category Dayton leads (51.1).
The Minutemen (77.9) and Flyers (75.1) rank first and second in the conference in scoring.
“They’re one of the best teams, not only in our conference but in the country, in terms of their efficiency,” Grant said. “They really shoot the ball well. They’ve got a variety of guys.”
3. Inconsistent team: UMass has suffered five losses by five points or fewer. One of those was one of the worst losses by an A-10 team this season: 68-63 at home to Howard on Nov. 16. Howard ranks 294th in the Ken Pomeroy rankings. UMass is No. 159. Dayton ranks 69th.
While A-10 play provided a new beginning for UMass, it has brought more frustration in a 69-60 loss at home to La Salle and a 65-62 loss at preseason favorite Saint Louis on Wednesday.
UMass played better in the latter game and led by one with eight seconds to play. Saint Louis pulled ahead with four straight free throws. Pipkins missed a game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds.
“We battled and battled right down to the end,” McCall told the Daily Hampshire Gazette. “Pip had a clean look there. The ball just sometimes doesn’t go in the basket.”