Interior scoring propels Davidson over UMass, 69-60

Wildcats scored 44 points in the paint

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Chris Tucci/ UMass Athletics

By Dan McGee, Assistant Sports Editor

Entering its matchup against the Massachusetts men’s basketball team on Sunday, Davidson was averaging over nine 3-pointers per game, shooting them at a 35.8 percent clip.

On Sunday, the Minutemen (5-4, 4-2 Atlantic 10) held the Wildcats (10-5, 6-2 A-10) to just 5-of-18 from beyond the arc. However, Davidson’s interior game propelled them to a 69-60 victory.

“We expected it because their bigs are 6-foot-11, 6-foot-10,” TJ Weeks said of the Wildcats ability to attack the paint. “We just have to be more physical with them down there in the paint, make them miss layups, get them frustrated basically and miss easy buckets. We held them down at the 3-point line.”

The Wildcats frontcourt dominated the interior to a 44-to-20 points in the paint advantage.

Depth at the four and five positions proved vital for Davidson, deploying three different forwards to stop UMass star center Tre Mitchell on the interior.

Sam Mennenga and Nelson Boachie-Yiadom were tasked with guarding Mitchell for most of the afternoon with leading Wildcats big-man Luka Brajkovic fouling out in just 19 minutes of work. The trio combined for 27 points and 12 rebounds on 12-of-22 shooting.

Boachie-Yiadom made the most of the opportunity, blocking three shots.

“Their bigs were being really physical in the second half,” Weeks said.  “They started punching our shots and getting easy lay-ins.”

Mitchell, who scored 12 points in the first half, was held in check in the second, scoring just four more points in the latter half on 1-for-9 from the field. The sophomore center battled through a minor leg injury for much of the game after suffering a hard fall in the final six minutes of the first half. He would later leave the game with 2:42 remaining because of a shoulder injury.

With Dyondre Dominguez and Cairo McCrory still out for unknown reasons, the Minutemen lacked quality forward depth entering the matchup. To combat the towering Davidson frontcourt, UMass head coach Matt McCall deployed a duo of Mitchell and backup center Mark Gasperini at times.

Mitchell found Gasperini under the hoop for a layup with 9:01 left in the first half for Gasperini’s first bucket of the season after starting 0-for-11 from the field.

“It felt great, I was happy for him,” Weeks said of seeing Gasperini score. “He finally got the lid off the bucket. Hopefully we see a little bit more from him.”

The double-center lineup provided some flexibility at times for the Minutemen, especially with their lack of depth. However, they still have some kinks to workout.

“I like that lineup, we worked a lot on it in practice 5-on-0,” McCall said of the Tre Mitchell and Gasperini duo. “We just haven’t had the bodies to be able to do it 5-on-5 in practice. I thought that lineup can be good for us at times, we just have to continue to work at it, especially if teams aren’t switching pick and rolls.”

McCall was unable to provide an update on the severity of Mitchell’s injuries after the game. Despite the nagging leg issue and early exit, Mitchell still tied the team-high with 16 points and added nine rebounds.

UMass will look to rebound from the loss on Wednesday Jan. 27 at Virginia Commonwealth. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m. from Richmond, Va.

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