Javohn Garcia leads UMass with 18 points in 92-81 win over UMass Lowell

Garcia played extended minutes due to a Noah Fernandes injury

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McKenna Premus/ Daily Collegian

By Joey Aliberti, Assistant Sports Editor

The absence of Noah Fernandes made way for Javohn Garcia to serve as a major contributor against UMass Lowell. Garcia led the Massachusetts men’s basketball team with a season-high 18 points and 29 minutes in a 92-81 victory on Wednesday.

Other than scoring, Garcia added five rebounds, four assists along with a steal and another unofficial steal and block.

“We’ve been on Javohn [Garcia] as a staff, we’ve been on him about his effort,” Minutemen (4-3) coach Matt McCall said. “…He’s kept his chin up, he’s had a positive attitude and he was ready for the opportunity he got today. I was really proud of him and happy for him. He was smiling in there too, Javohn [Garcia’s] not a guy that smiles all the time.”

Kolton Mitchell was the rotation guard that McCall was praising for effort through the first six games. Mitchell hasn’t played much himself, seeing more than ten minutes just once when he played 13 in the season-opener. Unlike Mitchell, Garcia has four games with over 10 minutes of action, but another two where he did not see the court at all.

Fernandes and Rich Kelly command over 30 minutes a game apiece and McCall almost always has at least one of them out on the court, leaving Garcia with little opportunity to play.

“Yeah I mean I think [Garcia’s] got to continue to improve, I think he’s got to continue to get better, I think he’s got to continue to focus on the things we’re asking him to focus on,” McCall said when asked if Garcia earned himself a permanent spot in the rotation after his performance. “But when he went out and played that way obviously, he did some really really positive things. We want him to continue to get better.”

Garcia’s previous high this season was 21 minutes against Yale, but like the entire team, Garcia did not have a productive night. He finished 2-of-8 from the field, scoring four points and snagging a block and a steal.

With Fernandes sitting with a leg injury, Garcia allowed McCall’s two lead guard offensive scheme to run nearly identical to the way it would if the Wichita State transfer were healthy.

Garcia and Rich Kelly handled the press breaks when the River Hawks, (4-2) started to press in the second half. Garcia handled the ball with care, turning the ball over only once on Wednesday night.

“We needed [Garcia],” McCall said. “We lost 15 points per game with not having Noah [Fernandes] out there and Javohn stepped up. He was so steady, he didn’t turn the ball over.”

The sophomore got valuable game experience in his freshman year that he has not seen as much with the arrival of Rich Kelly through the transfer portal. He scored 23 in his collegiate debut less than a year removed from Wednesday’s game over UMass Lowell. He followed his 23-point debut with an 18-point performance the day after.

After finishing his freshman year averaging 10.4 points, 2.6 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals in 26 minutes a game, Garcia had yet to contribute in his sophomore year until the seventh game of the season.

“I’d say it was a challenge early, but as the year came on, I just started to adjust,” Garcia said about the difficulty of not seeing much playing time early this season. “I know what needed to be happening… and I just go out and show it every day.”

UMass made 25-of-33 free throws in comparison to the River Hawks’ 9-of-12 from the line. Garcia made just as many free throws as UMass Lowell with one less attempt. He finished last season with the second-most attempts from the foul line on the team behind Tre Mitchell.

“[Garcia’s] got such good speed, especially in the open floor,” McCall said of Garcia’s ability to get to the foul line. “So when’s he’s got a head of steam coming at you, it’s hard to keep him in front. And what happens is when you can’t keep someone in front of you, you put two hands on him, it’s foul… He just plays so well downhill and that’s why he does such a good job getting to the foul line.”

McCall said he is “optimistic” Fernandes will play Saturday at home against Rutgers. If Fernandes misses a second game, expect Garcia to maintain the role he had Wednesday night in the win over the River Hawks.

Saturday’s game will be played at 2 p.m. in the Mullins Center.

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