Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A strong second half helps UMass defeat UMBC 77-60 in its season opener

Minutemen outscored Retrievers 45-24 in second half
UMass Athletics

Heading into the locker room down 36-32, Massachusetts men’s basketball head coach Matt McCall had one thing to write on his whiteboard.


It worked, as the Minutemen (1-0) outscored the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) 45-24 in the second half, winning its season-opener 77-60.

TJ Weeks and Trent Buttrick led the way in scoring, each finishing with 16 points Tuesday night. Weeks had 10 of his 16 in the first half, nearly scoring a third of the Minutemen’s 32 first half points on his own. Buttrick ended the first 20 minutes with a single point, but he scored the remaining 15 in a seven-minute span and went on a 13-point run by himself in the second half.

“Our effort was just way better,” McCall said of his team’s second-half performance.

“…If you said ‘hey coach what’s your concern’ it’s been rebounding… We’re not an overly big team, especially when you take [Michael] Steadman out, and we’ve got to do a better job of rebounding by committee.”

Buttrick’s first half struggles led to McCall starting Greg Jones in the second half and the Minutemen immediately found improvement in their rebounding interior defense.

The Retrievers (0-1) outrebounded UMass 28-16 in the first half, and UMBC big Dimitirije Spasojevic had 10 points and eight rebounds. He finished the game with the same number of points and one additional rebound, as the Minutemen outrebounded the Retrievers 21-17.

“Greg Jones’ effort was just outstanding,” McCall said. “He wasn’t letting [Spasojevic] just catch the ball. He was being physical with [Spasojevic] down there and gave us a great lift.”

Jones, a 6-foot-7 forward who transferred from James Madison scored nine points in 17 minutes off the bench.

Noah Fernandes and Rich Kelly joined Weeks and Buttrick in the starting five. Fernandes finished his night with 12 points, four assists and four rebounds while Kelly had eight points, six assists and four rebounds.

Fernandes and Kelly command the majority of the playmaking duties for UMass, finishing with 10 of the 14 total assists and being the primary contributors to the Minutemen’s 14-to-9 assist to turnover ratio.

Turnovers plagued the Retrievers throughout the night. Ray Salnave was the sole player on UMBC to collect more than one assist, as the team finished with an 8-to-19 ratio. While also leading UMass in scoring, Buttrick (five) and Weeks (three) combined for eight steals and the Minutemen had 11, four more than last season’s average.

Another defensive contributor was Dibaji Walker, who finished with two blocks and a steal off the bench. Walker — listed at 6-foot-9 — used length and energy to overwhelm defenders and make momentum-shifting plays for UMass.

“His energy and his defense was infectious through our team,” McCall said of Walker.

Cairo McCrory was the fifth starter for the Minutemen, but he did not see much time after his opening shift, totaling seven minutes.

“Tonight, other guys were playing better, with more effort,” McCall said to the reasoning behind McCrory’s lack of play. “Cairo’s been terrific, we’re going to need him going forward and he’s a really really talented player. He got injected into the starting lineup essentially yesterday.”

Montana transfer Michael Steadman stepped on someone’s foot in the recent days and was in a walking boot Tuesday night. McCall was planning on starting the 6-foot-10 230-pound big man until he heard the news yesterday that he was going to be unavailable for the opener. McCall does not have information on the severity of the injury and Steadman’s timetable to return at the time this story was written.

A combined nine 3-pointers were made by UMass and the Retrievers. Three of which came from UMBC within a 1:11 second span. After starting 3-of-4, the Retrievers finished the game 2-of-24. The Minutemen did not hit a three pointer until Buttrick’s blazing second half run, finishing the game 4-of-17 from deep.

UMass will travel to New Haven Friday night to take on Yale for its second game of the season. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. and the game will be streamed on ESPN+.

Joey Aliberti can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @JosephAliberti1.

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