UMass coach Matt McCall: Anthony Grant’s ‘been there for me’ since firing on March 1

Minutemen, Flyers play Friday night in A-10 tournament

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Massachusetts kept its coach, Matt McCall, on the job for at least one more day by beating George Washington 99-88 in the second round of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament on Thursday.

Since the announcement of McCall’s firing on March 1, the Minutemen have won three straight games to improve to 15-16. If they win one more game, it would be their longest winning streak since they opened the 2019-20 season with five straight victories.

“Any day could be our last day,” forward T.J. Weeks said. “So that’s how we go about it each and every day.”

McCall has also kept his focus in part because of the help of Dayton coach Anthony Grant, who he worked with on Billy Donovan’s staff with the Florida Gators.

“Through this process these last 10 days, Anthony’s been there for me,” McCall said. “He’s one of the best in the business. There’s not many better human beings in college basketball than Anthony Grant.”

McCall and Grant, both in their fifth seasons, have coached against each other seven times in A-10 play and will meet in the A-10 tournament for the first time at 6 p.m. Friday.

At his first A-10 media day in 2017, McCall called Grant and Donovan his two biggest mentors in the game. He told the story then of how Grant offered McCall his first job, as director of operations at Virginia Commonwealth in 2007, only to have Donovan call him five minutes later to offer him the same job. McCall took the Florida position but stayed in touch with Grant through the years.

“I remember telling Anthony no was one of the hardest things I had to do because of the impact that he had from me being a student manager to a graduate assistant coach to the way he treated me through those times,” McCall said Thursday. “The lessons he taught me, what I learned from him when he was an assistant, how he carried himself, how he scouted, how he recruited, I took all those tools with me when I was an assistant coach and in my journey as a head coach.”

McCall and UMass beat Grant and Dayton twice in their first season, 2017-18, in the league, but Dayton has won the last five games and routed UMass 82-61 on Feb. 23 at UD Arena. McCall said he’s glad this game won’t be in that environment.

“Their pressure really rattled us,” McCall said. “We did a bad job handling their pressure. They were extremely physical with us. We’ve got to take care of the basketball. We can’t have live-ball turnovers and just give them layups and points. They’re too big. They’re too physical. They’re too athletic. That will be a big, big focus for us these next — whatever it is — 20 hours.”

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Davidson, Saint Louis advance: No. 1 seed Davidson beat No. 8 Fordham 74-56 on Friday in the first quarterfinal of the day. Grant Huffman led the Wildcats (26-5), who bounced back from an 82-76 loss at Dayton in their regular-season finale, with 20 points.

Fordham (16-16) shot 14.3% (4 of 28), their second-worst number of the season, from 3-point range.

• In the second game Friday, No. 5 seed Saint Louis beat No. 4 seed St. Bonaventure 57-56. Gibson Jimerson made a go-ahead jump shot with 17 seconds left. On St. Bonaventure’s final possession, Kyle Lofton was fouled with 1.1 seconds left but missed both free throws and then followed up his second miss but missed a layup at the buzzer.

Saint Louis (23-10) will play Davidson, which has reached the semifinals in six straight tournaments, at 1 p.m. Saturday.

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