UMass ends pause on the road against Richmond

Mitchell, Fernandes likely to return

By Joey Aliberti, Assistant Sports Editor

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team returns from a two-week pause with its toughest matchup of the year in Richmond.

The Spiders (12-5, 5-3 Atlantic 10) were ranked as high as No. 19 this season before losing to West Virginia 87-71.

UMass (7-4, 6-2 A-10) hasn’t played since Feb. 6, when it defeated Rhode Island 75-63 without two of its best players in Tre Mitchell and Noah Fernandes. The Minutemen also just started practicing again this week and will have only been allowed to drill 5-on-5 twice before Tuesday night’s matchup.

“Obviously there’s some rust,” said UMass head coach Matt McCall of his team going back to practice. “We’ve tried to simulate games as much as we possibly can. More scrimmage situations and less drilling. More just going out and playing and less breaking things down just because we need to play.”

The return of Mitchell and Fernandes allows the Minutemen to play with the depth that McCall constantly talks about, allowing UMass to go eight or nine deep, even with the loss of Dibaji Walker for the remainder of the season.

What is striking is how well the Minutemen played in a game without two of arguably their best players. Carl Pierre shot 5-10 from beyond the arc while finishing with 19 and Cairo McCrory had an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double off the bench.

With the fact that neither Mitchell or Fernandes have played in over a month, the number of minutes and usage given to the tandem will be something that should not go under the radar.

“We got to make sure both of those guys are comfortable going into the game health-wise… not worrying about their wrist or shoulder, they feel 100 percent going into the game,” McCall said. “… Sometimes in those situations as a coach you get concerned, but when you’re dealing with character like Tre and Noah, you don’t worry nearly as much about [their role in the game plan].”

Four of Richmond’s five starters are seniors who have had years to familiarize themselves with head coach Chris Mooney’s version of Princeton offense.

“They know all the right reads and different things to make,” McCall said. “…That’s what makes it so challenging to guard, it’s how long those guys have been playing in the system… The word for the game is urgency. The second you stand up or come out of a defensive stance you’re getting back cut.”

The Spiders are led by their veteran guards in Blake Francis and Jacob Gilyard. Francis leads Richmond in scoring with 16.4 points a contest. Gilyard leads the nation in steals per game with 3.5 while also adding 11.6 points and 5.2 assists.

“You have to be weary of where he’s at on the court and not to throw lazy passes around him because [Gilyard] likes to be in passing lanes and jump passes of course,” Pierre said. “At the same time, we just have to play basketball and make the right plays.”

Tip-off is at 6 p.m. in the Robins Center. The game can be seen on ESPN+.

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