UMass men’s basketball takes down George Mason in final game of regular season

Minutemen outrebounded the Patriots 45-35

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Sophie-Zoe Schreyer / Daily Collegian

By Pedro Gray Soares, Collegian Staff

A thrilling 83-80 overtime win for the Massachusetts men’s basketball over George Mason checked off all the boxes for an exciting regular season finale. It was head coach Matt McCall’s last regular season game for the Minutemen.

Going into the game it was vital that UMass (14-16, 7-11 Atlantic 10) found a way to limit the Patriots’ (14-15, 7-9 A-10) forward Josh Oduro, the conference leader in scoring with 18 points per game, and to control the rebounding margin. The Minutemen did both, as Oduro played 40 minutes and finished with 16 points, and UMass outrebounded George Mason 45-35.

“I thought that our physicality up front against a really, really good frontcourt player [was great],” McCall said of Oduro. “You look at what Greg [Jones] did [guarding Oduro]. You look at what Trent [Buttrick] did on the backboard… controlling the backboard was obviously a huge, huge part of the game.”

The 45 rebounds mark a season-high for the Minutemen. Jones finished with nine and Buttrick with eight, and a total of six players grabbed four or more boards in the game for UMass.

Noah Fernandes led the way in the scoring department with 28 points, followed by Rich Kelly with 20. Three other Minutemen contributed with nine points. The guard duo was crucial down the stretch and combined for 12 of their team’s 15 overtime points.

While Kelly is one of the best 3-point shooters in the conference and has unlimited range, on Saturday he did most of his damage finishing at the rim with a deadly scoop layup and solid use of his leverage. Just three of his 20 points came from beyond the arc; the rest came from attacking the basket and making 7-of-7 free throws.

For George Mason, D’Shawn Schwartz led with 21 points, six rebounds and four assists, and DeVon Cooper notched 19 points. Cooper went 5-for-8 from three and was the game’s biggest threat from deep.

“Usually offensively we know we’ll be fine if we just play unselfish and share the ball, so defensively we just wanted to make it tough on Oduro, which we did, and just try and take away the 3-point line” Fernandes said.

Defensively, the Minutemen sent double-teams Oduro’s way and adjusted to take away the Patriots’ 3-point shot in the second half. McCall’s changes worked wonders and his players were able to limit George Mason to 1-for-12 from deep in the second half after shooting 50 percent in the first.

Despite being in foul trouble with much of the game left to play, UMass found a way to deal with it and keep its stars on the court. Five Minutemen had three or more fouls in the game, but no one fouled out. Fernandes managed to play since the 6:30 mark in the second half with four fouls and not be sent off, playing a total of 40 minutes in the contest.

The difference in performance between the first 30 minutes and the last 15 minutes of the game for UMass was noticeable, almost as if it flipped a switch. Early in the game the Minutemen were taking – and missing – bad shots and allowing open shots for the Patriots. This led to George Mason building a double-digit lead until there was 13 minutes left in the game.

“For those guys to fight and battle the way that they continue to with everything that’s transpired, that’s pretty special,” McCall said. “And I’m extremely grateful for everybody in that locker room.”

It’s quite fitting that in the last home game of McCall’s tenure at UMass, the Minutemen found a way to beat a quality opponent on the road, something they’ve struggled with throughout the past five years. A win or go home scenario is next up for UMass with the conference tournament fast approaching, so the team will look to build up on Saturday’s performance.

“Job’s not done yet,” McCall said.

This win sorts out the A-10 tournament’s bracket, in which UMass faces the George Washington Colonials. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. on Thursday at the Capital One Arena in Washington D.C.

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