TJ Weeks shines, pours in 23 in UMass debut

Freshman explodes in opening-night win

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TJ Weeks shines, pours in 23 in UMass debut

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

By Amin Touri, Editor in Chief

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Pressure? What pressure?

In his collegiate debut for his father’s alma mater, with his family watching on and the weight of expectations around him, TJ Weeks responded with a dazzling performance on Tuesday night, dropping 23 points and hitting four threes as the Massachusetts men’s basketball team rolled to a 79-64 opening-night win over UMass Lowell.

Weeks was a stellar 8-of-12 from the field and 4-of-6 from 3-point range on Tuesday, as he got hot and stayed hot to lead UMass (1-0) to an impressive home win.

“I had the jitters coming in,” Weeks admitted post-game. “A little nervous for the first game that actually counted, but once we went back and forth I started to feel good.”

Weeks’ profile coming in was as a high-level shooter, but he found different ways to score early on. As the River Hawks looked to close out hard when he caught it on the perimeter, Weeks flashed some game off the bounce, getting inside twice for his first two buckets of the game.

Once Weeks found some space late in the first half he let fly and drilled his first three, before drawing a foul outside the arc two minutes later and hitting all three free throws. His 10 first-half points led the Minutemen to a 36-33 lead going into the break.

The first half was just a taste, as the Woodstock Academy product started to catch fire in the final 20 minutes. After a quick UMass run early in the half, UML managed to cut the lead to seven — Weeks caught it on the wing and didn’t hesitate, hitting from deep again to restore the 10-point lead with 13 minutes to play. On the very next possession he found his way to the rim, laying it in to put the Minutemen up 12.

UMass led by as much as 16 in the second half before the River Hawks climbed back into it, and with three minutes to play, the lead was only six. Enter, TJ Weeks.

The freshman caught it on the wing and UML left him with an inch of space again, and that a mistake; his third three of the game pushed the lead back to nine. The River Hawks missed a triple on the other end, and Sean East found Weeks in the corner. There was a man in his face but he let it fly anyways, and the result never seemed in doubt.

“I thought the three that TJ hit in the corner, I think it was a six-point game, he hit that three in the corner, I thought that was kind of a dagger there when he hit that,” said UMass coach Matt McCall. “Told him last week: he’s not a freshman. And I think you guys can see that he doesn’t play like one.”

When that shot dropped, the Mullins crowd came to a crescendo, as Weeks had turned a six-point game with three minutes to go into a 12-point lead — UML would never come any closer.

“I felt like in the second half, when it [the lead] got down to four, six [points], Carl [Pierre] or TJ just drilled a shot,” McCall said. “I mean, TJ was fearless. Even the one he missed right in front of me I thought was in, he missed the one in transition right after he made one, just plays the game with no fear. Our guys were composed when they had to be composed, played the game the right way, were looking for each other, and again, just a really good team win.”

The scoring numbers immediately catch the eye, but Weeks was solid elsewhere — he pitched in defensively as the Minutemen held the River Hawks to just 38.3 percent shooting from the field, with two blocks and two steals to his name to go along with three rebounds.

“There’s going to be nights where, TJ, the ball’s not going in the net,” McCall said. “What’s he doing, how’s he impacting the game in other ways.

“And there’s going to be nights like tonight where it goes in, and goes in at a rapid rate.”

It was a big night for No. 23, who walked onto the court his father had starred on all those years ago and delivered.

“I’m feeling great,” Weeks said, “[to] just go out there and play good in front of my parents, that went here, just live up to the name.”

Amin Touri can be reached at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @Amin_Touri.