UMass men’s basketball wins season opener 94-79 over Northeastern

Tre Mitchell finished with 31 points

Parker+Peters%2FDaily+Collegian%0A

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

By Dan McGee, Assistant Sports Editor

Playing its first game after a nine-month hiatus, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team secured a 94-79 victory over Northeastern. UMass (1-0) was led by a 31-point effort by sophomore center Tre Mitchell, the reigning Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year.

“I was very pleased with our guys’ effort today,” said head coach Matt McCall. “The fact that it’s been so long since we’ve been on the floor, 274, 275 days. I thought we had great energy and really played pretty hard and with good effort.”

Within the first four minutes, the Minutemen shot just 3-for-10 from the field despite hauling in four offensive rebounds. The Huskies (0-1) turned the ball over four times within that span. The shakiness from the UMass side allowed Northeastern to hold a 15-11 lead with just under 13 minutes to go in the first half.

“I think as time went on, we just got more comfortable,” Mitchell said. “I think guys had the jitters from their first college games. We came out hard on defense but just couldn’t convert on offense. Once we got into our flow it was pretty easy from there.”

Midway through the first, the Minutemen found their feet, putting together an 11-0 run to pull ahead 30-19.

For T. Mitchell, it took little time to find a rhythm. The star center caused problems for the Huskies all afternoon, racking up 19 first half points en route to a 31-point, 11 rebound double-double in the opener.

In perhaps his most dominant sequence of the game, Mitchell sunk a tough hook shot from the post, blocked a layup on the opposing end, and then nailed a 3-pointer—all within 23 seconds. His presence down low drew double and triple teams which opened the floor for the rest of UMass.

“He’s that good of a player, he was doing it from everywhere on the floor,” McCall said of Mitchell. “He was making threes, he had a pull-up jumper at the foul line, he was making post moves in the lane. He could have easily had 40, he missed some shots he normally makes.”

“He’s the best front court player in the country and he needs to be recognized as that.”

At halftime, UMass led 47-36 and would not look back. Beyond the dominance of Mitchell, freshman Javohn Garcia shined in his collegiate debut. The guard tallied 23 points on 69 percent from the field, including 15 points in the second half. He also added a team high three steals.

For the Huskies, guard Tyson Walker led the charge. The sophomore did his best to pull Northeastern into the game, finishing with 29 points and five steals. His effort was all for naught as the Minutemen expanded their second half margin to as large as 19.

The ferocious full-court press of UMass forced Northeastern to turn the ball over 18 times, resulting in 24 Minutemen points off turnovers.

“It’s something we work on a lot, pretty much every single day,” Mitchell said of the press. “Honestly it’s about our depth, being able to rotate guys and bring that same level of energy.”

TJ Weeks was causing havoc in the press, who made his long-awaited return after missing most of last season due to injury. Though the redshirt freshman shot only 3-for-11 from the field for 11 points, his return to the lineup is a welcome one.

“We’ve been talking to [TJ] a lot about managing expectations and not going out there and trying to shoot 50 percent from the 3-point line,” said McCall. “To put his focus on the defensive end of the floor and rebounding because that’s what we need. I thought he played well and we’re going to need him moving forward.”

Rounding out the double-digit scorers for UMass was senior Carl Pierre, who added 14 points. Despite only playing 17 minutes due to foul trouble. Transfer Noah Fernandes led the Minutemen with five assists.

Capitalizing on turnovers and consistent scoring across the board allowed UMass to maintain its lead in the second half. The Minutemen secured their first victory of the season 94-79.

Northeastern will look to rebound against UMass as the two sides will play the second half of a home-and-home series on Sunday. Tipoff is slated for noon from Boston, Mass.

Dan McGee can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TheDanMcGee