UMass to host URI on Wednesday

The Minutemen are 1-5 against the Rams under McCall


Mehroz Kapadia/Daily Collegian

By Joey Aliberti, Assistant Sports Editor

If you did not watch the Massachusetts men’s basketball team take on URI on March 7, 2020 then you likely missed out on one of the most competitive Atlantic 10 matchups of the season.

Tre Mitchell scored his then career-high 33rd and 34th points of the game on two free throws with nine seconds remaining.

UMass lead 63-62 with eight seconds remaining.

Rams veteran point guard Fatts Russell would then take the ball coast-to-coast against the Minutemen full court press, leaving him driving the rim against Mitchell.

Russell and Mitchell made slight contact before Mitchell swatted the layup attempt.

Mitchell only celebrated for a brief second, as Russell had drawn the foul and was sent to the line, where he sealed the game by sinking both of his free throw attempts.

Rhode Island won 64-63.

Not to mention, the first meeting of last season ended in a postgame scuffle, where players and coaches from both sides exchanged words.

“They’re a new team,” said Minutemen (3-3, 2-1 A-10) head coach Matt McCall. “…They’ve got a lot of new personnel… We’ve got a lot of kids from this area and they understand that this has been a rivalry for a long, long time.”

McCall has been the coach in Amherst for the past four seasons, while David Cox is currently in his third with the Rams (6-6, 3-2 A-10). Cox has the 3-1 advantage in games where those two have been at the helm coming into Wednesday.

Russell remains the catalyst for URI in his senior season, averaging 15 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.3 steals.

“He’s one of the best point guards in the country,” said UMass point guard Noah Fernandes. “So you got to do a lot of preparation for him. Defensively, you know he’s going to pick up full-court the whole game… and offensively you got to try and keep him out of the lane and try to make him take tough shots even though he’s very good at that.”

Though Russell comes into this game likely being the second most well-known player on the court behind Mitchell, Fernandes is a player who has put up similar numbers in his first season with the Minutemen.

Fernandes is third on the team in scoring with 12.8 per game, to go along with a team-high in assists and steals with 5.8 and 1.8, along with the fact that he is second on the team in rebounds, even though he stands at 5-foot-11.

This could be a game where a lot of free throws are attempted. UMass currently leads the country in attempts per game with 29.3 (.727%), the Rams are tenth on the same list at 25 per contest (.683%).

Both teams have a correlation between wins/losses and free throw attempts. The Minutemen average 11.6 more free throws than their opponents in wins, while averaging less than one more per game in their losses.

URI averages right around 10 more than its opponent in wins, while that average decreases to over seven fewer attempts than its opponent in losses.

“That’s a big stat in the game,” McCall said of the free throw margins. “…Pay attention to that stat, that’ll be a big one in this game.”

TJ Weeks, who left in the first half of Saturday’s game against La Salle with a left knee injury is up in the air for Wednesday’s game against the Rams. McCall is “optimistic” for him to play, but still wants to see how his knee responds tomorrow, making him a “game time decision.”

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center. The game will be aired on NESN and ESPN+.

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