UMass men’s basketball defeats Rhode Island on the road Saturday afternoon

Minutemen finish with four players in double figures

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McKenna Premus / Daily Collegian

By Frederick Hanna III, Assistant Sports Editor

The week-long preparation for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team seemed to pay off nicely for the squad when it defeated Rhode Island on the road by a score of 78-67 Saturday afternoon. That win marked back-to-back wins for the team at the Ryan Center.

UMass (10-11, 3-6 Atlantic 10) came into the contest at the Rams (12-9, 3-6 A-10) coming off a loss to George Mason at home and desperately searching for a conference win, nonetheless an A-10 win on the road for a team that has struggled outside of the Mullins Center this season. After back-and-forth scoring between the two teams to start the opening half, the Minutemen locked into the game in the second half to pull away from Rhode Island.

“The atmosphere was through the roof,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “I thought our players really embraced [the energy]. The overall effort [was huge]. I thought we got outworked the last time we played them but for the large portion of the game outside the three minutes where they went on a run, we played four guards the entire game. You’ve got to give our guards credit just competing and the physicality of blocking [the URI players] out.”

It was a balanced game for UMass who finished with four players in double figures. Collectively as a team, the Minutemen shot 45.2 percent from the field which was its best mark since its win over Saint Louis at home. The win over the Rams was the third time the team has shot over 39 percent from the field in its past five games. The team went 10-of-25 from deep, good for 40 percent and its best performance from beyond the arc since its last loss to Rhode Island which came at home.

T.J. Weeks led the way for the Minutemen and finished with a career-high 30 points on 12-of-17 shooting from the field. Outside of Weeks’ 30 points, UMass got quality production from its guards. Fernandes played in his first game back since his collision with Trent Buttrick in their game at Saint Louis on the road. The junior finished with 11 points along with seven assists and had the highest plus/minus of anyone on the court.

“[Fernandes] was outstanding,” McCall said. “I am asking him [on the sideline] does he want to play man; does he want to go zone. We are constantly talking about timeouts, watching the press. He’s setting flare screens for T.J. [Weeks] and C.J. [Kelly]. He wants his teammates to have success. Noah [Fernandes] takes a lot of pride in trying to get his guys shots.”

The starting five that consisted of Fernandes, Weeks, Buttrick, Rich Kelly and C.J. Kelly was relied upon heavily. Aside from Buttrick, the rest of the starting five played at least 31 minutes. Buttrick was the closest one to that number of minutes on the court with 22.

“Our starting five was working,” McCall said. “Trent [Buttrick] got into foul trouble and [Michael] Steadman came in and was physical at the basket. Javohn [Garcia] did some positive things out there but you don’t want to change something just to change it. That five was working and you’ve got to roll with that five.”

UMass has struggled to find consistency since its four-game losing streak in the middle of January. The Minutemen haven’t won back-to-back games since Dec. 4 against Harvard. The key in Saturday’s against the Rams was that UMass got scoring across the board from all of its guards. C.J. Kelly finished with a double-double and three assists shy of a triple-double. The junior transfer connected on 4-of-11 of hits shots from the field and his 12 points against URI was his first time in double digits in five games.

“Coach [McCall] just kept preaching ‘keep making the right’,” C.J. Kelly said. “We had to rebound today, and we knew it was going to be important. Coach came up to me before the game and said, ‘I am going to need 10 [rebounds] from you today’. My teammates kept getting in the right spots when I drove, and I kept finding them.”

The Minutemen caught Rhode Island at the right time and are now level with them in conference play. UMass will shift focus towards its midweek matchup against George Washington which is set for Wednesday. Tip off is at 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center.

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