UMass men’s basketball defeats UMass Lowell at home 92-81

Minutemen finished with six players in double digits

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McKenna Premus/ Daily Collegian

By Pedro Gray Soares, Collegian Staff

In an important game for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team following its tough road trip playing in the Jersey Mike’s Classic, it secured a win at home against UMass Lowell on Wednesday night 92-81 without its leader Noah Fernandes.

“I was really proud of our guys,” UMass head coach Matt McCall said. “The way that they bounced back, but we have to be so much better in terms of closing out games.”

UMass (4-3) pulled away early in the second half with a 19-0 run but almost lost its composure late in the game, allowing UMass Lowell (4-2) to bring the lead down to single digits late in the game. Javohn Garcia led the Minutemen in scoring with 18 points off the bench, followed by C.J. Kelly and T.J. Weeks each with 12 points. Allin Blunt led the way for the River Hawks with 18 points.

The Minutemen finally saw forward Michael Steadman on the court for the first time this season, and his performance was encouraging. The post player played a large role on both sides of the court, scoring an efficient 10 points and securing four rebounds in just 12 minutes of play.

“It just felt great being out there, I’ve watched the first six games so just being out there with the guys and competing at a high level was a good thing,” Steadman said. “Maybe the first two minutes I was rushing, the game was kind of fast, but it kind of slowed down in the second half.”

Steadman checked into the game midway through the first half and immediately helped stop UMass Lowell star forward Max Brooks, who had been causing a lot of trouble for the Minutemen down low up to that point. However, Brooks twisted his ankle soon thereafter and left the game. Blunt and Kalil Thomas stepped up in his place and posed a serious challenge for the UMass defense in the second half. Blunt shot 4-of-8 from downtown but struggled a bit under the basket.

A game that was 30-27 with two minutes left in the first half turned into a 53-30 UMass lead with 15 minutes left in the second half. The lead would later shrink down to single digits, but it showed the ability this group has offensively when it becomes fully healthy.

The Minutemen attempted 33 free throws in the contest and made 25 of them. They also reached the 20-assist mark but had 16 turnovers to go along with it. Trent Buttrick had five of those 16 turnovers, but managed to have a solid shooting performance finishing with 11 points and continuing his streak of double-digit scoring.

Dibaji Walker and Dyondre Dominguez both bounced back at the four-spot for UMass with impressive showings. Neither of them missed a single shot in the game, and both finished with nine points. Dominguez led the team in rebounds with seven and had four assists and two blocks. On the defensive end, their pick-and-roll and screen defense was a part of the reason the Minutemen limited the River Hawks in scoring.

Weeks was another player whose positive performance contributed to the win. He shot the basketball well, and once again showed his tenacity on the glass with a total of six rebounds. He was successful in the few times where he drove hard to the basket, showing that if he becomes confident in his slashing capabilities, the 3-point success will also fall in place often.

After a long stretch of games with little to no breaks, the group will finally have some time for themselves away from the court.

“We’ve been around each other so much, from traveling to traveling back, to buses, to dinners, to film sessions, to practice… I’m going to give the guys 24 hours. I want them to be able to take that 24 hours and catch their breath, because this has been a challenging stretch with very little practice time,” McCall said.

UMass will return to the Mullins Center on Saturday for one of their biggest tests of the season, a matchup against Rutgers. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m.

Pedro Gray Soares can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @P_GraySoares.