UMass men’s basketball advances to quarterfinals of A-10 tournament

Minutemen score season-high 99 points

McKenna+Premus+%2F+Daily+Collegian

McKenna Premus / Daily Collegian

By Pedro Gray Soares, Collegian Staff

It’s been over seven years since the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s last win against George Washington. The Minutemen broke the streak on Thursday in their Atlantic-10 tournament matchup after scoring 99 points to the Colonials’ 88.

UMass (15-16, 7-11 A-10) put on an offensive clinic for a season-high in points at an ideal time, and its relentless pressure to force turnovers denied GW (12-18, 8-9 A-10) any lead in the game.

“What a game, what a performance for our players just to come out the way they did and the way they continue to [do so],” UMass head coach Matt McCall said. “Just the fight [of them], the resilience even in the second half when GW seemed to crack into our lead a little bit and make a run, but our guys always responded and found a way to close out the game.”

In the last matchup between the two teams, George Washington went home with the win behind James Bishop’s 24 points. Even though Bishop didn’t make a three that game, he was still able to penetrate the lane and finish around the basket at will.

The Minutemen’s help defense was on point this time around. Bishop found extra bodies wherever he went and scored five points in the first half and 15 in total. He also finished with zero assists and four turnovers.

Despite allowing 88 points to the Colonials, UMass’ effort on defense exceeded that of the previous clash. The Minutemen got 14 steals in the game and scored 31 points off turnovers. Diving for 50-50 balls, cutting passing lanes and pestering GW’s ball handlers gave the Minutemen extra possessions and helped them put up 12 more shots than their opponent.

“I think our aggressiveness defensively in the last three games, it’s been really, really good,” McCall said. “Even though Bishop and [Joe] Bamisile had really good games and they scored, I thought our aggressiveness on those guys, especially in the first half, was really good.”

“I thought the effort plays that we didn’t make the first time that we played them, I thought we made tonight,” McCall said.

The scoring output from the Colonials’ guards would normally be enough to win a game. Bamisile, Brayon Freeman and Bishop combined for 58 points. However, they couldn’t handle the Minutemen’s pressure, turning the ball over 12 times and shooting 3-for-13 from deep.

“I think we played faster than we had to,” Bamisile said. “I think that has a lot to do with our season, it was more on our end than them. Turning the ball over is just something we have to work on and play with our own pace and not get sped up.”

Throughout the season McCall tried many different lineup combinations and taken advantage of the depth of the squad, but on Thursday he turned to a short rotation. Seven players stepped on the hardwood; all played 16 or more minutes and scored at least six points.

Fernandes erupted for a career-high 29 points and seven steals. Forward Trent Buttrick scored 13 points and grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds. T.J. Weeks started the 3-point onslaught which helped UMass pull away early with 15 first half points. Five Minutemen reached double-digit points.

In the three games before Thursday’s win, UMass shot 17-of-61 (27.8 percent) from three. McCall was concerned about not getting to shoot around in the arena prior to the contest, but his worries vanished when the Minutemen shot 56 percent  from beyond the arc in the first half and 41 percent for the game.

Usually, UMass’ main source of offense is long-distance shooting, yet it managed to exploit advantageous matchups to blow by GW defenders easily and notched 46 points in the paint.

The Minutemen face Dayton on Friday at 6:00 p.m. in the A-10 quarterfinals.

Pedro Gray Soares can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @P_GraySoares.