Strong performances from TJ Weeks, Tre Mitchell guide UMass over Fairfield

Second-half adjustments huge Saturday

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Strong performances from TJ Weeks, Tre Mitchell guide UMass over Fairfield

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

By Frederick Hanna III, Collegian Staff

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Tre Mitchell and TJ Weeks certainly didn’t play like any ordinary freshmen in their first road game.

The two combined for 27 points — 19 in the second half — in a thrilling win on Saturday, as the Massachusetts men’s basketball team edged out Fairfield 62-60.

Mitchell bounced back from an “average” near double-double against UMass Lowell, in which he finished with 10 points and nine rebounds, and put up 18 points to go along with seven rebounds versus Fairfield (0-2).

“We started off a little slow, but we came out the second half ready to rock. We knew what we had to do and got it done,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell was the leading scorer at the half with eight points, after the team shot just 36 percent from the field in the first half without making a 3-pointer. The second half saw UMass (2-0) come out of the break with a different mindset and energy level. The Minutemen started to feed the ball down low into the paint more to Mitchell, and his effortlessly smooth left-handed hook soon became his bread and butter. With Sean East facilitating the ball effectively in the second half for UMass, Mitchell managed to go 2-for-4 from beyond the arc.

“I think them fronting me opened up another aspect of my game because it forced their bigs to guard me on the perimeter, and obviously I got them in foul trouble, so it worked out,” said Mitchell.

Weeks was a huge contributor in the second half to the momentum swing that veered toward the Minutemen’s favor. The freshman guard finished with nine points on 3-of-4 shooting from deep. His back-to-back threes in in the start of the second half got the energy of the UMass team rejuvenated and fired up. The freshman nailed another from well beyond the arc, falling back as UMass coach Matt McCall was screaming for a foul. Weeks’ sharp shooting gave the Minutemen the boost they needed in the second half after netting zero threes in the first half.

“I thought we did a good job executing down the stretch,” McCall said. “TJ missed a couple floaters there that he normally makes, I debated calling a timeout on one of them, but he got down the lane and just missed it. I thought our poise both offensively and defensively was good.”

Asked about the importance of having a player like Weeks to shift the momentum with a basket made, McCall spoke to UMass’ second-half adjustments.

“It changed the momentum of the game,” McCall said. “It’s been like this kind of theme through these first two games, where we get off to difficult starts or don’t play great in the first half, and then the numbers shift completely in the second half. We shot 60 percent in the second half [from three] and we shot a ridiculous percentage. We got to find a way to play better in the first halves too.”

It was a tale of two halves for the Minutemen, who overcame the seven-point deficit they left in the first half to overcome a determined Fairfield time. Having the luxury of a ball facilitator like East proved to be the key for UMass, as the freshman dished out seven assists and found Mitchell down low in the post many occasions.

The pure shooting ability of Weeks, and the footwork and strength of Mitchell down low in the paint proved too much for the Stags. Weeks has looked more than confident from beyond the arc through his first two college games and isn’t shy to put up a contested three, while Mitchell continues to show flashes of dominance in the paint — the two combined to help lead UMass back in the second half.

The Minutemen host Northeastern on Tuesday at the Mullins Center, with tipoff scheduled for 7 p.m.

Frederick Hanna III can be reached at [email protected] , and followed on Twitter @FrederickHIII