Excellent outside shooting propels UMass past Harvard at home 87-77 on Saturday

Minutemen shot 51.7 percent from three

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Shilpa Sweth / Daily Collegian

By Pedro Gray Soares, Collegian Staff

Three-point shooting has been the lifeblood for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team all season and it was once again in its 87-77 victory over Harvard on Saturday.

UMass (6-3) has now scored over 85 points in five straight games, and much of that is due to stellar shooting from beyond the arc. Even against a well-coached, strong Harvard (5-4) defense, head coach Matt McCall’s group pulled through behind its 15 made threes, one shy of the school record. However, McCall didn’t seem content with the shooting when his defense gave up 77 points.

“[The performance from beyond the arc] is outstanding. But at some point in time I don’t know that we can shoot that in a game,” McCall said. “I hope we can all year, that’d be great, but when it’s not going in, can we get stops? Can we rebound? We don’t want to play a game in the 60’s, but if it comes down to that, can we do that and grind out a victory?”

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for teams preparing for a game against the Minutemen is the scoring depth they have to account for. UMass compensates its struggle to get stops by draining threes on the other side, and Harvard experienced it first-hand in Saturday’s game.

Coming into the game against Harvard, UMass ranked fifth out of 358 teams in 3-pointers made per game with 11.6, and 12th in both 3-pointers attempted per game with 29.3. The Minutemen also came in with a 3-point percentage of 49.5.

The shooting prowess with which the Minutemen are equipped has showed their potential to come back from any deficit, and that was evident Saturday against the Crimson. Noah Fernandes and T.J. Weeks helped erase a 17-point Harvard lead with 8:16 in the first half giving UMass a one-point lead heading into the break.

Fernandes ended with 24 points, 18 of which came from beyond the arc. He shot an efficient 6-of-9 from three. Weeks finished with 21 points, and 12 of those were scored from deep. He shot 4-of-8 from three and seemed to have finally found his groove.

“I started off slow, but kept working at [my shooting],” Weeks said. “Extra shots before practice, after practice, off days… I knew eventually I’d find my stroke, so I just kept working.”

Right behind Fernandes and Weeks was C.J. Kelly, one of the best three-point shooters in all of college basketball at the moment. He finished with 16 points and went 3-of-4 from three. Kelly has been one of the x-factors for the UMass offense this season and is among the nation’s most dangerous threats from downtown, shooting at a 52.4 percent clip so far.

But those three players are far from the only skilled shooters in the squad. The number of capable shooters in the rotation makes it one of the best shooting teams McCall has ever coached.

“Here you’re looking at Weeks, [Rich and C.J. Kelly], Noah [Fernandes], Trent [Buttrick] didn’t make one tonight but he’s shown what he can do, Greg [Jones] finds a way to make a three every single game he’s in there, Dyondre [Dominguez] has made threes for us before… It’s by far one of the best,” McCall said.

Outside shooting has been so important for UMass this season that in the first half against Harvard, 16 of its 21 field goal attempts came from beyond the arc. McCall has made fixing their three-point shooting dependency a point of emphasis, along with the necessity to play better defense.

Next up, UMass will travel to Northeastern on Tuesday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.