UMass men’s basketball overcomes early first half struggles to defeat Harvard 87-77

Weeks, Fernandes, C.J. Kelly combine for 61 points

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Shilpa Sweth/Daily Collegian

By Frederick Hanna III, Assistant Sports Editor

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team came away with a victory over in-state rival Harvard on Saturday by a score of 87-77 to extend its winning streak to three games.

UMass (6-3) coach Matt McCall headed into the game with 99 wins in his coaching career and after a rocky start for the Minutemen, the idea of a 100th win seemed unlikely. Harvard jumped out to a 35-19 lead and any idea of celebrating a milestone for McCall was in the back of everyone’s mind. McCall called a timeout with 7:51 remaining in the first half to put a halt on the Crimson’s (5-4) scoring.

“I called a timeout [when they went ahead 35-19] and it was pretty animated,” McCall said. “I think there is a time and a place where we have talked about me remaining calm and then there’s a time and a place where we need to get a little animated, and it was a pretty animated timeout to say the least.”

To close out the first half UMass went on a 24-7 run which helped get it back into the lead for the first time of the game. Much of the offensive production from the first half came from Noah Fernandes and T.J. Weeks. The two combined for 29 points in the first half. Fernandes finished the half with 17 points and ended up tacking on seven more points to end the game with 24. He went 9-of-17 from the field and was one assist and three rebounds short of a triple-double.

“I had no idea [that I came close to a triple-double],” Fernandes said. “I was hurting out there [with my leg], but I was just playing hard. Everyone was locked in today. We really wanted that win.”

It was the third time this season that Fernandes finished with at least 20 points. He tied his season-high with nine shots made from the field in his 37 minutes of action against Harvard, the third highest number of minutes he’s played this year.

“[Fernandes] is, and I’ll say it again, bar none one of the best guards in the [Atlantic 10],” McCall said. “[Fernandes] runs our team, he keeps us calm down the stretch. He makes plays down the stretch, he’s constantly talking and communicating. I am looking at him and Rich [Kelly] in the huddles and they are constantly talking to each other and everybody.

Weeks found his groove on the offensive end. The redshirt sophomore has received a lot of praise from McCall this season for his rebounding and defense, yet his shooting has trailed behind. In Saturday’s win over the Crimson, Weeks finished with 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field.

“Everybody is happy for everybody,” Weeks said of the joy the team is having this season. “You can feel it on the bench. If I hit a three everyone is up on the bench doing some crazy thing. If Noah [Fernandes] hits a spin step back fadeaway, everybody on the bench is getting up and cheering.”

With Dibaji Walker out of the lineup with an undisclosed injury, the Minutemen relied upon their other role players on the bench to fill the void of energy and scoring that Walker usually brings. Filling in that role was Greg Jones who played 34 minutes, the second most out of everyone on UMass. Jones contributed with six points on 2-of-5 shooting from the field and connected on one 3-pointer as well.

Another player who didn’t light up the stat sheet but played valuable minutes for the Minutemen was Michael Steadman. The senior played in just his third game of the season. Steadman went 2-of-3 from the field in 18 minutes on the court. He finished with five rebounds, the most he has had throughout the three games he’s played in.

C.J. Kelly finished with 16 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field, four of his five shots made came from beyond the arc. Fernandes, Weeks and C.J. Kelly combined for 61 points in the win. It was the fifth straight game the team put up at least 85 points.

The Minutemen head on the road for a matchup against Northeastern Tuesday night. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.

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