UMass men’s basketball snaps four-game losing streak with win over Saint Louis

Garcia and Jones combine for 28 points off the bench on Thursday night

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McKenna Premus / Daily Collegian

By Frederick Hanna III, Assistant Sports Editor

It was a thrilling victory for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team who snapped a four-game losing streak and got its first conference win of the season after defeating Saint Louis by a score of 91-85.

After a narrow first half between the two squads, UMass (8-9, 1-4 Atlantic 10) pulled ahead late in the second half to seal the win over the Billikens (11-6, 2-2 A-10). The Minutemen had balanced scoring across the boards, finishing with five players scoring in double digits on the night.

“I thought we had really good practices going into this [game],” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “I thought our guys were prepared. We changed some things in practice just to raise the energy level a bit and I thought our guys responded to it in a very positive way. It’s a good win for a lot of reasons but one, they are a really good team and two, I just thought everybody contributed something.”

The second half proved to be the difference maker for UMass who outscored Saint Louis 54-47 and shot 66.7 percent from the field. The Minutemen went quiet from deep in the second half connecting on only one three out of five attempts and finished the night shooting 35 percent. That percentage is the third lowest the team has put up this season, but that low mark didn’t seem to hinder the team in its performance against Saint Louis.

UMass was led by Noah Fernandes down the stretch who put up his fifth game with at least 20 or more points this season. The junior finished with 24 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field and connected on two 3-pointers on four attempts.

“Just having coaches and guys on the bench that are super composed definitely helps you out there on the court with your composure,” Fernandes said on the energy that the team had against the Billikens. “When everybody else is calm you can’t be out there [being] rowdy. We just got to stay together. When you have guys like that [on the team] it definitely helps with your momentum.”

Fernandes swished home the and-one go ahead jumper with 46 seconds left in the second half to put the Minutemen ahead by one. That basket was the start of a 9-2 run in the final minute of the game which wrapped things up for UMass. Crucial defensive stops by Javohn Garcia and T.J. Weeks in the ending seconds of the game stopped any possibility of a Saint Louis comeback.

The Minutemen got quality production out of eight of its nine players in the rotation against the Billikens. UMass led the way with 33 points from its bench. Aside from Fernandes who led the way for the Minutemen in scoring with his 24 points, the next two closest scorers were Garcia and Greg Jones with 15 and 13 points, respectively.

“It’s major [getting bench production],” Fernandes said. “It just makes everything easier on the court when you have a supportive group of guys that are really rooting each other on. [It’s easier] playing through your mistakes, and everything [becomes] a lot easier.”

Jones made five of his 10 attempts from the field and finished with a near double-double after securing nine rebounds. The forward played 31 minutes, the fifth time he has finished with 30 or more minutes this year. His nine rebounds were one short of his season-high which came in the second game of the season. The transfer from Southern Connecticut State put up double digits for just the third time this season, and the first time he’s done it in back-to-back games.

“Stay level headed and stay together,” Jones said on the mentality heading on the road for the finale of their matchup with Saint Louis. “[We] just have to keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing and keep improving.”

The experienced trio of Fernandes, Trent Buttrick and Rich Kelly who combined for 44 points didn’t overshadow the performance of Garcia who fell three points short of his season high. The sophomore has battled through quarantine periods due to exposure of COVID-19 and has fought for minutes after slipping out of the rotation. In Thursday night’s matchup against the Billikens, Garcia proved how efficient he can be when slotted into the rotation and showcased the wide-ranging skillset he brings to the floor.

UMass now heads down to Saint Louis on Sunday for the end of the series between the two teams. Tipoff is set for 2:30 p.m. and can be streamed on the USA Network.

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