Noah Fernandes sinks Murray State with last-second shot

Minutemen gut out a tough win despite shooting struggles

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Kayla Wong / Daily Collegian (2022)

By Pedro Gray Soares, Assistant Sports Editor

Noah Fernandes did it again. The senior swished a game-winning 3-point shot to bury Murray State 71-69 and send the Massachusetts men’s basketball team to the Myrtle Beach Invitational finals.

Around a year ago, Fernandes knocked down a buzzer-beating three against Rutgers. On Friday he hit an even more difficult one, beating a double team along the sideline and finding a clean look while falling away before the Minutemen bench piled up on top of him.

“I just stepped back and I don’t know, just trust everything you’ve done sort of your whole life and this is what you work for,” Fernandes said. “I don’t know how I do it but just like starting when I was really young, game-winners and half-courters, crazy stuff. It’s one of those things that you can train your mind for so when you’re in the game, it’s nothing to you.”

“I’ve heard about his game-winning shot-making for six months since I became the coach [at UMass]. I lived it today. He’s fearless in that moment,” head coach Frank Martin said.

UMass (3-1) beat the odds after going down by 10 with 6:37 to go, clawing back despite shooting 32 percent from the field.

One of the factors that contributed to the comeback was ball security; UMass had just seven turnovers in the game. Offensive rebounding also played a major role as the Minutemen outrebounded Murray State 17-6 on the offensive glass. This gave UMass life and led to a large disparity in total shots attempted, 74-57 in favor of Massachusetts.

Leading the Minutemen, Fernandes finished with 14 points, five assists and one turnover. Matt Cross had a productive night as well with 15 points, 14 rebounds and four assists, though he shot 5-for-16 from the field.

Frank Martin had been experimenting with rotations the entire season, but with 8:41 left in the game and a hole to climb out of, he turned to one lineup. Fernandes, Cross, Rahsool Diggins, T.J. Weeks and Isaac Kante stayed on the court until the end of the game and turned a 10-point deficit into a lead after a 14-2 run.

“That was a great answer, great answer for a group of guys that are playing together for the first time,” Martin said.

Weeks, who shot 4-for-5 from downtown, hit a deep pull-up three to take the lead with 1:31 left. He also missed two big free throws which let the Racers take the lead with two made foul shots and seven seconds left on the clock. Then Fernandes turned Myrtle Beach upside down.

The Minutemen were on the negative side of scoring runs more often than not. Murray State led for 30 minutes while UMass did so for 4:36. But the Minutemen managed to stick around striking range as the Racers got into foul trouble and continued to heave threes despite an off night from beyond the arc.

“Just a gutzy, gritty win,” Fernandes said. “We contained them enough to get the win. Defensively we were just a little off the whole game. As time went on, we locked in a little more on the defensive end and that’s where we hang our hat. We just wanted to make it as tough as possible on them those last minutes.”

JaCobi Wood helped Steve Prohm’s group stay in front for as long as they did. The guard scored 24 points, adding five rebounds and four assists while shooting 3-for-6 from deep and 11-for-12 from the free throw line. Outside of Wood, four Murray State players entered foul trouble early which held back their production. Starting forward Kenny White Jr fouled out.

Even though Martin emphasizes post offense and giving big men the ball under the basket, the team has struggled massively with efficiency at the rim. Against the Racers they shot 8-22 on layups. Against Towson they shot 50 percent, and against Colorado they were 55 percent inside the restricted area. The Minutemen also shoot 61 percent from the stripe so far this season. UMass has mostly attempted high percentage shots but converted them at a low rate. Despite being poor in layups and free throws and ranking towards the bottom of the country in 3-point rate, the Minutemen manage to win games.

“There’s a lot of things we need to continue to learn as a team, but the one thing that we can’t do is dwell on winning the same way we don’t dwell on losing,” Martin said “Be proud, it’s hard to win a game, it’s really hard to win a championship of any kind and we get that opportunity on Sunday.”

The Minutemen face the winner of Charlotte and Tulsa in the Myrtle Beach Invitational finals on Sunday at 1 p.m.

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