UMass men’s basketball defeats Fairfield in overtime at home

Minutemen were without Fernandes and Weeks

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McKenna Premus / Daily Collegian

By Frederick Hanna III, Assistant Sports Editor

It was a gritty, hard fought win for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team in its 77-73 win over Fairfield. Five minutes of overtime was necessary to find a winner between the two teams.

UMass was without Noah Fernandes and T.J. Weeks, who were sidelined with the flu. That didn’t seem to be much of a problem as the Minutemen (7-5) finished with four players in double digits. Michael Steadman led the way with a season-high 20 points and behind him was Javohn Garcia and C.J. Kelly equaling each other with 13 points apiece.

“I wanted the guys that were in the locker room to be confident and go out there and play,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “I didn’t make mention of [Fernandes and Weeks] being out. They are both terrific players and they help our team a lot, but I wanted the guys that were here and healthy to go out and play with a level of confidence.”

C.J. Kelly stepped up for the Minutemen when they needed him most, providing crucial baskets down the stretch in the final minutes of regulation. UMass was down 65-60 with 1:34 remaining in the second half until C.J. Kelly made a layup after spinning off the elbow and drawing some contact to get to the line. He hit the free throw for the 3-point play to get Fairfield’s (8-4) lead down to two points. He followed that basket up with another layup to tie the game up at 65 points which sent the game into overtime.

“I thought C.J. Kelly, especially late in the game when we put the ball in his hands, was outstanding,” McCall said. “[He] got down the lane, I thought he got fouled multiple times. I thought our aggressiveness getting in the lane [was key].”

Filling the void of Fernandes at the point guard spot and as primary ball handler of the team, was Rich Kelly who stepped into that role for the Minutemen. The graduate student put up 12 points on 3-of-8 shooting from the field and grabbed six rebounds as well, tied for the team high with Greg Jones. He knocked down the opening shot in overtime, a 3-pointer to put UMass ahead by three with 4:28 remaining in the period.

“That [3-point] play was transition,” Rich Kelly said. “Coach [McCall] called a double drag, which is when the four and the five set a ball screen for me. [Michael Steadman] set a really good ball screen for me, and I just bounced it out. They were playing drop coverage so that means [the defender] is going to stay below the level of the ball, and I knew my [defender] got hit, and I knew I could get [the shot] off.”

Rich Kelly’s partner in the backcourt against the Stags was Garcia, who hadn’t played since the game against Rutgers. Garcia played a season-high 34 minutes and along with 13 points, he contributed four steals, a season-high. After missing the past few games with academic issues per McCall, Garcia showcased once again that he can help build upon UMass’ formidable backcourt.

“Javohn [Garcia] is a really good player,” Rich Kelly said. “He started last year, and I think he averaged ten points a game. That dude can really play. We see it every day in practice and I think he has done a great job, stepping up and fighting through the adversity of the season. It’s only going to get better and better for him, so I am really excited.”

The Minutemen now head into their final non-conference matchup at home against NJIT Wednesday with tipoff set for 1 p.m.

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