Noah Fernandes’ buzzer beater lifts UMass over Rutgers 85-83 on Saturday night

Fernandes the hero in thrilling win at home for UMass

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McKenna Premus / Daily Collegian

By Frederick Hanna III, Assistant Sports Editor

With the game on the line in the fourth quarter and 4.1 seconds left on the clock, Noah Fernandes knocked down a 3-point buzzer beater to help the Massachusetts men’s basketball team take down Rutgers 85-82.

“I just really wanted to make that [3-point] shot [at the end],” Fernandes said. “I really wanted to make that shot for the guys. I think it was a big win for us. We haven’t won two [games] in a row all year so I think that was a big step for us.”

It was a rollercoaster type of a win for UMass (5-3) who battled back from a 17-point deficit in the first half and dominated the closing stages of the final minutes to squeak out the victory. UMass coach Matt McCall began to switch up the defensive looks late in the second half that the Minutemen were running with against Rutgers (3-3). A switch to a 2-3 zone that brought some quick success eventually stuck through until the end of the game.

In the final seven minutes of the game UMass went on a 22-9 run largely in part to the change in the defense. Rutgers’ lead was cut to single digits and things began to click on the offensive possessions.

“We were down 12 [points] and Noah [Fernandes] was going to the free throw line and I was like ‘guys, it’s a three-possession game with seven minutes to go, we’re right there’,” McCall said. “You hear guys talking in timeouts. We’re right there [at the end], we just got to get a couple stops.”

Fernandes was the star of the show and took over down the stretch of the game. The junior finished with 16 points and a game-high 11 assists in 39 minutes of action, 12 more minutes than what the second closest player finished with. Fernandes went 8-of-9 from the free throw line and 2-of-4 from three with his last 3-pointer made proving to be the most important one of Saturday night’s game.

“He’s just got that resilience,” McCall said of Fernandes. “What else can we say about him? He was absolutely outstanding. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: he’s one of the best guards in the Atlantic 10.”

Outside of Fernandes’ heroics late in the game for the Minutemen was C.J. Kelly’s performance from beyond the arc. He put up 24 points in the win on 5-of-7 shooting from 3-point range. The junior knocked down back-to-back shots from the 3-point line toward the end of the first half which got UMass within seven points of Rutgers’ lead.

“[C.J. Kelly] is a really talented offensive player,” McCall said. “We got to keep challenging him defensively but [when] that ball leaves his hands it looks good.”

It wasn’t the smoothest of games for the Minutemen and that was evident in the wide margin of points scored in the paint between the two teams. In the first half Rutgers had 30 points in the paint compared to UMass’ four. Not much changed in the second half but the Minutemen did double their total amount of points in the paint by the end of the game.

What kept the Minutemen within reach of Rutgers was success from the 3-point line. The Minutemen finished with only 12 points in the paint yet went 16-of-32 (50 percent) from deep. UMass had seven players drain at least one three ball and four of them finished with at least four 3-pointers made in the game.

“I will say [Rutgers] just started closing out more on the 3-point line and it made it easier to attack,” C.J. Kelly said. “They started hugging me [in the second half] which led for other guys to get in the gaps.”

Rich Kelly finished with 12 points all via the 3-pointer and Weeks put up 11 points on 2-of-4 shooting from deep. Trent Buttrick’s streak of scoring in double digits was snapped at seven as the forward finished with seven points, the lowest total on the year for him.

Unlike UMass, the Scarlet Knights struggled to knock down any shots from deep. They finished the game going 3-of-13 from deep but proved their potency inside the paint with their physical big men.

The athleticism of Rutgers’ forwards was too tall of a task for the Minutemen defenders to handle as they struggled to fight for rebounds down low. Six players had at least four rebounds or more for the Scarlet Knights whereas UMass’ two main forwards had two rebounds combined.

It’s the first time the Minutemen have won back-to-back games and the second time this season that they beat a Big Ten opponent. UMass now has a week off to prepare for its next game which is against Harvard at home on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 12 p.m.

Frederick Hanna III can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @FrederickHIII.