Colleges

JOE SULLIVAN | COLLEGE BASKETBALL

UMass coach Matt McCall continues to produce surprises

Massachusetts coach Matt McCall, shouts out instructions to his players during the first half against Providence in an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017, in Amherst, Mass.(J. Anthony Roberts/The Republican via AP)
j anthony roberts/AP
Matt McCall has UMass at 8-8, which is better than expected.

The last time UMass won at Dayton was 2007-08, when Travis Ford was coaching and Gary Forbes was playing. That is, before Saturday.

The surprising season under first-year coach Matt McCall continued as the Minutemen beat Dayton, 62-60, in an arena that’s extremely tough for the visiting team. And the team did it without starters C.J. Anderson and Rashaan Holloway, who were left home for “failing to live up to team standards.’’ McCall said there were no legal problems.

In the victory, guard Luwane Pipkins was once again a key player as he led the offense with 25 points.

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The Minutemen are now 8-8, which exceeds a victory total most people projected for them, including Sully’s Court.

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“I don’t know if I’ve ever been prouder of a team after a game,” McCall told the Daily Hampshire Gazette. “Just the resiliency and the fight they showed to keep competing.

“Offensively, we struggled down the stretch. We completely relied on our defense. We were undermanned. You’ve got a freshman in Carl Pierre who plays 35 minutes. Luwane Pipkins plays 37. They found a way to win.”

Just as proud was athletic director Ryan Bamford, who originally hired Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey back in the spring. Kelsey lasted less than a week before changing his mind and returning to Winthrop. Bamford eventually turned to McCall, but he has said that McCall was no second choice.

“The wild thing about coaching searches, as you often have in men’s basketball and football, is they are not traditional in how you interview and select your ultimate candidate,’’ said Bamford. “What I mean by that is we didn’t choose Pat Kelsey over Matt McCall; we offered Kelsey the job two days after we met with him and BEFORE we had the chance to visit with Matt.

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“Often times you can’t line everyone up, interview them, and make a selection. Timing is everything. When you think you have a good fit, you have to move. Kelsey was involved in other searches and we did not want him to get poached.

“So while it looks like Matt was our second choice, he definitely wasn’t the ‘runner-up,’ so to speak. After sitting with him and listening to his plan for success, I was ready to invest in him as much as anyone I have interviewed for a head coaching position in my career.’’

Right now, it’s working out very well for both AD and coach, when expectations were so low given that six players left the program after Derek Kellogg was fired as coach and then a key transfer was sidelined for the season because of health issues.

“Matt has far exceeded my expectations in year one,’’ said Bamford. “He is a relentless worker, a very strong communicator, and a coach with high self-confidence because he has been around winning programs and has tremendous mentors.

“Matt has never wavered once from his blueprint for success, even as we turned the roster over last spring and summer and have had other times of adversity this year. He maintains a positive outlook and focuses on areas that impact winning.

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“If it doesn’t impact being successful in the classroom or in competition, Matt doesn’t focus on it or let it be a distraction. In that way, he is very mature in only his third year as a head coach.

“I am pleased to say that Matt is in the middle of establishing that culture and it is taking hold. Going on the road yesterday to one of the toughest venues in the country and winning with only six scholarship players is a good example of our progress.

“The student-athletes that have bought in to our culture are driving us forward. Matt and his staff have invested in them and they have turned around and invested in the process.’’

Next for the Minutemen are two winnable home games against La Salle and Saint Joseph’s before they visit Atlantic 10 favorite Rhode Island.

.   .   .

A look back at last week:

ELEVATOR GOING UP

Colorado: When a team returns from losing both games on a road trip in Oregon and then must face fourth-ranked Arizona State and preseason No. 1 Arizona in three days, only the worst can be expected, right? The Buffs incredibly won both games against the Arizona schools in stunning fashion. Overall they’re only 10-6, so not sure this is a sign of things to come. It might have just been one wild weekend in Boulder.

East Tennessee: The Buccaneers clubbed in-state rival Chattanooga, 85-66, Saturday for their six straight victory and 10th in 11 games. They’re 3-0 in the Southern Conference.

Notre Dame: The Irish lost All-American Bonzie Colson to a foot injury, probably for the season, but Mike Brey proved again why he’s one of the most underrated coaches as his team crushed North Carolina State, 88-58, and then won at Syracuse, 51-49. All is not lost.

Purdue: The Boilers have won 11 straight and are 15-2. It’s the third-best 17-game start in school history. The Boilers were 16-1 in 1993-94 (with the great Glenn Robinson) and 1987-88 (when guard Troy Lewis was the star).

Texas Tech: Basketball has never been important or even really good in Lubbock, even when Bobby Knight was semi-retired there. Chris Beard is out to change that. In his second season as coach, he has the Red Raiders nationally ranked with a 14-1 record, and last week his team beat Kansas in Lawrence — the first Tech victory at Allen Fieldhouse after 17 straight losses.

Beard, who was an assistant under Knight, is as Texan as Willie Nelson and believes he can have huge success in Lubbock. So far, he’s right.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers are 14-1 and started out the Big 12 season with a winning roadtrip to Oklahoma State and Kansas State. Then they returned to Morgantown and beat Oklahoma while harassing star Sooners guard Trae Young into eight turnovers. Their loss to Texas A&M back in November seems like a long time ago.

ESCALATOR GOING DOWN

Albany: When Vermont’s best player, Anthony Lamb, was lost to injury, I thought Albany was a clear favorite in America East. Then the Great Danes open the conference schedule with losses to Hartford and New Hampshire.

Charleston: Another league favorite doing poorly. The Charlies went on the road and lost to Drexel and Towson and are now 1-2 in the CAA.

Holy Cross: The Knights can’t get off the escalator, having lost five straight and 11 of 12.

North Carolina: This is not good news for BC. which has to play the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill Tuesday night. The Heels have lost two in a row, falling to Florida State and Virginia. Virginia was credited with 25 points off turnovers, which led UNC coach Roy Williams to say, “You turn the sucker over at the center line, and they’re going to dunk the dadgum thing.”

St. John’s: The Fightin’ Mullins are a decent 10-6, but they are 0-4 in the Big East after dropping a home game to DePaul. They have not turned the corner.

Texas A&M: Injuries, illness, and suspensions have taken a toll in College Station. The Aggies rose as high as No. 5 in the Top 25 but now have lost three in a row to Alabama, Florida, and LSU. Next is Kentucky at Rupp Arena Tuesday night.

Wisconsin: Just for losing at Rutgers.

THIS WEEK’S FINAL FOUR: Michigan State, Villanova, Oklahoma, Wichita State.

I had to drop Arizona out when coach Sean Miller said he’s not getting through to his team after a loss to Colorado. I forgive Oklahoma’s loss at West Virginia. Wichita returns; I think the Shockers are starting to reach their potential. I also forgive Michigan State’s loss at Ohio State.

THIS WEEK’S NATIONAL CHAMPION: Villanova

Joe Sullivan can be reached at joseph.sullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeSullivan