UMass’ offense adapts without Tre Mitchell and Noah Fernandes, Minutemen win 60-54

Javohn Garcia led the Minutemen with 14 points

By Dan McGee, Assistant Sports Editor

It wasn’t pretty, but it was enough.

With two of its best players in Tre Mitchell and Noah Fernandes sidelined with injuries, the Massachusetts basketball team defeated Fordham 60-54 on Wednesday night.

Without the Atlantic 10 scoring leader in T. Mitchell and their leading point guard in Fernandes, the Minutemen (6-4, 5-2 A-10) put together a scoring attack by committee to defeat the Rams (1-9, 1-9 A-10).

“When you play so much through Tre and Noah, those are your top two guys that are generating you a lot of offense because the ball being in their hands as much as it is,” head coach Matt McCall said. “To not have them, we knew at times offensively it would be a struggle tonight because of how much the ball is in either of their hands.”

In the absence of their two starters, the Minutemen relied on the guard trio of Javohn Garcia, TJ Weeks and Carl Pierre to provide the brunt of the scoring, combining for 37 points. UMass launched 32 shots from beyond the arc—including 28 from the trio. However, as a team the Minutemen shot a measly 25 percent from the beyond the arc, sinking just eight of their 3-pointers.

“We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well from the perimeter,” McCall said. “I’m fine with the amount of threes that we took. We just have to make some more of them.”

“I thought we were generating good shots for the most part, they just didn’t go in. That won’t be the case every night, we’ve got to continue to generate good ones and take good ones.”

When the three-ball wasn’t falling, UMass put an emphasis on an aggressive interior game. Garcia and Weeks largely led a pick-and-roll offense, using their physicality to drive to the lane. Weeks particularly came up clutch, nailing a left-handed layup with 1:09 remaining to extend the Minutemen lead to an insurmountable six.

“[Garcia] is a terrific player,” McCall said. “He’s extremely talented. On offense, he knows how to read a pick-and-roll, if someone goes under, he makes the right play, he can stick a three, he can get down the lane and finish. I thought he got fouled on some of his finishes at the rim too, they just weren’t getting called.”

In the absence of T. Mitchell, graduate transfer Mark Gasperini got his first starting nod at center. While he didn’t attract as many double and triple teams in the post as T. Mitchell typically does, Gasperini still produced, even nailing a right-handed hook shot from the low post mid-way through the second half.

Gasperini added nine points and five rebounds in the victory, including a series of clutch free throws to seal the deal down the stretch. Overall, Gasperini shot 5-of-6 from the charity stripe.

“I’m not Tre Mitchell so I knew I had to do different things to help us win,” Gasperini said. “I knew it would be a challenge because I hadn’t played big minutes this year. I knew I was capable. I knew I could do what the team needed to win.”

Despite not practicing since UMass played Davidson on Jan. 24 due to COVID-19 contact tracing protocols, Ronnie DeGray III added eight points on 60 percent shooting in just 21 minutes of work to assist his fourth place standing in A-10 field goal percentage.

“We don’t really care about the score as long as we’re the winning side,” Gasperini said. “It was low scoring compared to what we usually do but we are missing two of our best offensive players. We’re completely happy with the score as long as we win.”

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