UMass pulls away in second half to defeat La Salle 85-66 on the road

Minutemen finish game on 41-21 run

By Joey Aliberti, Assistant Sports Editor

With 16:30 left in the second half, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team was trailing conference foe La Salle 45-44.

UMass (2-1, 1-0 Atlantic 10) finished the game on a 41-21 run to defeat the Explorers (2-4, 0-1 A-10) 85-66, led by a scorching hot Tre Mitchell, who finished with a career-high 37 points on 13-17 shooting from the field and 9-14 from the free throw line.

The first half saw the Minutemen shoot at a 47 percent mark on 27 shots, along with a six-to-seven assist-turnover ratio but were still able to lead 36-35 heading into the second half.

“I didn’t like our offense in the first half,” Head coach Matt McCall said. “I thought we again were trying to over-complicate things… I thought we were playing way too slow.”

Early in the second half it looked like it was going to be more of what was seen in the first, until it didn’t. The Minutemen shot 54 percent from the field on 33 shots while also shooting 42 percent on their 3-pointers in the second half.

Tre Mitchell led the way, scoring 25 of his 37 in the final half.

McCall stressed ball movement and having a positive assist-turnover ratio coming off of Sunday’s 78-75 loss to Northeastern where they had eight assists to 15 turnovers.

UMass delivered with 19 assists and 11 turnovers, which was led by Noah Fernandes. Fernandes dished out nine assists in comparison to only one turnover, along with five steals on the defensive side of the court.

“Noah’s a winner,” McCall said. “He’s all about the right things. He wants to be coached, he wants to be pushed, he impacts the game in so many ways.”

Cairo McCrory came into Wednesday’s game against La Salle logging only two minutes. With nothing now holding him back, McCall talked about needing to find a way to get McCrory on the floor because of the athleticism he is able to showcase.

McCrory led the Minutemen in rebounds with nine, four of which were offensive, and adding seven points in 23 minutes off the bench.

“His ability to go up and get the board and get rebounds like he does, we needed to utilize him, and we need to continue to utilize him,” McCall said. “I was very proud of not only him, but Dibaji [Walker] as well. Dibaji and Cairo’s energy coming off the bench today was just tremendous.”

Junior Dibaji Walker was second on the team in rebounds with seven, which was added to his five points and two assists in 17 minutes.

Walker grabbed a defensive rebound with 5:44 left in the game, then proceeded to shoot and miss a three-pointer on the other side of the floor. McCrory was able to haul in that offensive rebound and allow Carl Pierre another attempt from beyond the arc, which McCrory again rebounded.

After another missed three, Walker corralled another offensive rebound, which was blocked out of bounds. Before long, a fourth consecutive offensive rebound was brought in by Fernandes. Though UMass did not score on this possession, damage was already done.

“Plays like that are demoralizing for the opposing team,” McCall said. “… You would love just to be able to hit a three there because of the effort on those plays.”

Senior guard David Beatty led the way for the Explorers, finishing with 17 points. Beatty was the only player to score in double-figure for La Salle, who now loses its third straight game against the Minutemen.

UMass is scheduled to play its next game Monday, Dec. 21 against Bryant.

Joey Aliberti can be reached via email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JosephAliberti1