UMass men’s basketball tops Fordham to break 22-game A-10 road skid

Mitchell’s 15 points, 19 rebounds lead Minutemen

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Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

By Amin Touri, Editor in Chief

Consider the curse reversed.

A full 777 days since its last road win in conference play, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team finally got it done away from the Mullins Center on Saturday, edging Fordham in a 57-49 rock fight in the Bronx.

The Minutemen (12-15, 6-8 Atlantic 10) and the Rams (7-19, 1-13 A-10) shot a combined 38-of-119 — just 32 percent — from the field, in a UMass win that was far from pretty but got the job done as the visitors pulled away in the second half.

“We talked about it at the half, too; it’s a grind,” said UMass coach Matt McCall. “We got off to a good start, we got up 4-0, and I felt like our effort dipped a little bit after that. That’s all we kept talking about during timeouts: this is a grind. I called it psychological warfare all week, and you can’t get distracted at any point in time. There’s going to be a run in the second half that’s going to win us this game, and that’s exactly what happened.”

Star freshman Tre Mitchell posted another gaudy statline, though it wasn’t headlined by his usual big scoring night; with Fordham selling out to stop the big man, he struggled offensively at times early, doing much of his work on the boards instead. Mitchell finished with a season-high 19 rebounds, and scraped together 15 points despite a 5-of-21 day from the field and a scoreless first half.

“If he’s not Atlantic 10 Player of the Week — let’s not talk Rookie of the Week, Player of the Week — we got two wins,” McCall said, “he was dominant against Saint Louis, he’s got 19 rebounds, the 15 points; had a goose egg in the first half and they’re just draping guys on him every single possession.”

With Mitchell struggling inside early, Carl Pierre finally got himself going to give UMass some much-needed offense. Pierre, shooting just 17.8 percent from three in the seven games leading into Saturday, finished with 11 points in the first half, nearly half of the Minutemen’s total scoring output. The junior missed his first three triples, then hit the next three in succession, the lone Minuteman with any rhythm in the first half.

Despite only scoring 24 points, UMass went into halftime with a three-point lead as Fordham looked to muck things up as much as possible.

The second half was as back-and-forth as the first for a while, as UMass maintained a small lead but struggled to stretch it past five points. Then a 10-3 run, sparked by a Samba Diallo steal and dunk and keyed by six quick points from Mitchell, put the Minutemen up by double digits with 3:30 to play, the first real bit of breathing room for either side.

“We didn’t execute down the stretch,” McCall said, “but I felt like if we could get that five-, six-, seven-, eight-point lead with three and a half minutes to go, just with how they play, we’d be in good shape.

“I thought Samba’s steal and dunk was a huge, huge play.”

Fordham didn’t quite go away, cutting the lead to just five in the final minute, but the Minutemen hit their free throws and put away their first road win in the A-10 in over two years.

“It was everybody,” McCall said. “I thought Samba Diallo today was terrific, he goes for 14 [points] and eight [rebounds], the steal and the dunk that he had was a huge play. Got Carl going there early, got him some looks, there’s a couple he missed that I’m sure he wants back but he also made some which was big for us, especially when we were struggling so much offensively in the first half. Again, Dibaji [Walker] as good today, he had some big baskets.

“Carl, Samba and Tre — those guys are our three leaders, and those three guys were terrific tonight.”

It’s an important win for UMass, which along with snapping a 22-game winless streak in conference games on the road, moved to 6-8 in the A-10 — the highest conference win total in the McCall era — and put itself in the driver’s seat for a first-round bye at the A-10 tournament in March.

It was a much-needed road win for a team that hadn’t been able to put it together away from home.

“It’s a great win for our team,” McCall said, “and everyone can stop talking about whether or not we can win on the road.”

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