UMass men’s basketball looking to extend its win streak to three games in Saturday’s matchup against Harvard

Four players averaging double digits in scoring

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Caitlin Mott / Daily Collegian

By Frederick Hanna III, Assistant Sports Editor

The gears seem to be turning and clicking into the right place for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team as it prepares for a matchup against Harvard on Saturday. Back-to-back wins see the team heading into the final month of non-conference play with some momentum.

UMass (5-3) comes into the game against Harvard (5-3) after a thrilling victory over Big Ten opponent Rutgers. Noah Fernandes was the hero for the Minutemen amidst battling and playing through a thigh injury that he picked up in the Jersey Mike’s Classic when the squad was in St. Petersburg, Florida.

“I would give [the pain] like 80-85 percent,” Fernandes said to media on Thursday. “When I am out there on the court I don’t really feel it like once the adrenaline starts going. Before the game it kind of hurts and right now after practice it hurts, but while I am playing I don’t feel it. I would say 100 [percent] but I do have to get some more treatment.”

Fernandes is leading the way in scoring for UMass this season. The junior is averaging 15.3 points per game while leading the squad with an average of 32 minutes a game. His dynamic playmaking ability hasn’t been hindered since he picked up the thigh injury. Fernandes played the second most minutes of his season in the last outing against Rutgers and put up 16 points to go along with the game winning 3-pointer in the final seconds.

The pairing of Fernandes and Rich Kelly has been a formidable backcourt for the Minutemen this season and has provided for stability at the guard spots. But in the absence of Fernandes in the win over UMass Lowell, sophomore Javohn Garcia stepped up big time to fill the void of the scoring that Fernandes usually brings.

Garcia has seen limited minutes this seen yet his number was called upon in the in-state matchup against the River Hawks. The guard was a consistent part of the starting five last year but with the addition of Rich Kelly to the team, he has seen a reduction in his minutes out on the court. Garcia put up 18 points in 30 minutes on the court against UMass Lowell, a season high in both categories for him.

“Javohn [Garcia] is terrific,” Fernandes said. “It’s tough because we have so many guards. If he could play 30-35 minutes [a game] I think he would. He is one of the most talented players I have ever played with. It’s a long season and we are going to need him. He always steps up whenever we need him.”

Likewise, with the backcourt, the front court for the Minutemen seems to finally be coming together. Trent Buttrick is right behind Fernandes in points per game with 14.1, tied with C.J. Kelly. Buttrick has played a lot at the five-spot for UMass this year but with Michael Steadman returning back from injury, Buttrick has switched back to his more natural position as a power forward. The big man is third on the team in 3-point percentage out of players with a minimum of 30 shots taken from beyond the arc. The chemistry between Fernandes and Buttrick has been evident when the two are out on the court, especially with Buttrick’s ability to be a threat from beyond the perimeter.

“I just try to find my spots and try to find the looks that I like in the game [when practicing],” Buttrick said. “I try to search for my [3-pointers] in transition to just prepare my mind mentally for the game. Even if I am not making them in practice I still shoot them.”

The Minutemen have balanced scoring amongst their starters with four of the five averaging in double digits. Out of a minimum of 15 shots taken from 3-point range, UMass has seven players shooting at least 30 percent. Steadman mixing into the starting five could get this squad to all five starters averaging double digits but it will be a gradual process as the big man is steal easing his way into increased minutes. The Minutemen have scored 80 points or more five times this season, falling just one short of the total amount of times the squad did last year in the shortened season.

“I think we are close to having five guys averaging in double figures and that’s exactly how we want to play,” McCall said. “It just shows to me that we are playing unselfish, we are moving the ball. The best teams I have ever been a part there has not been a guy who has gone for 25 points on a given night, it’s been five or six guys moving [the ball], sharing each other’s success.”

UMass ends its three-game homestand with a matchup against Harvard. Tipoff is set for 12 p.m. and can be televised on NESN.

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