Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass holds off Colorado, notches strong non-conference win

Offense improves in 66-63 victory
Dylan Nguyen/ Daily Collegian (2022)

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team defeated Colorado Thursday afternoon in its opening matchup of the Myrtle Beach Invitational. In a physical affair, both teams had runs throughout, but it was the Minutemen (2-1) who came away with a hard-fought 66-63 victory.

The most important stretch of the game was the final two minutes as a series of missed shots, fouls and turnovers offered up a range of emotions for UMass and Colorado (2-2) fans alike. After Rahsool Diggins hit a crafty layup to take a 65-58 lead, Tristan Da Silva responded immediately with a 3-pointer to cut the Minutemen’s lead  to four. 77 seconds later, the buzzer sounded on Colorado’s chances; a missed KJ Simpson three was the final in a series of opportunities by the Buffaloes to put the game away.

“I thought we defended really well and then our offense let us down in the last five minutes of the game or so,” UMass head coach Frank Martin said. “That’s part of the learning process. The last four or five minutes of the game, [we] stopped listening and you can’t do that in this type of game. The basketball gods protected us because we almost messed that game up at the end.”

A major strength for the Minutemen was their rim protection. Colorado’s speed created problems for UMass all game but blowing by Minutemen defenders wasn’t all the Buffaloes needed to do to score. Around the paint, Wildens Leveque and Isaac Kante were waiting to impact Colorado drives, and impact they did. The Buffaloes shot 12-of-31 on layups with both big men causing many of those misses.

Leveque finished the game with five blocks, over half of UMass’ eight blocks on the day. Kante also revealed his two-way capabilities, as he scored 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting.

After a frustrating night on offense against Towson last Thursday, the Minutemen’s offensive game plan made noticeable strides against the Buffaloes. UMass opened the game shooting 11-of-19 from the floor and continued to move well, even during scoring droughts. Entry passes, off-ball movement and point guard leadership showed huge improvement from where it was seven days ago. While shooting continued to cool off in the second half, the Minutemen still flashed offensive prowess, showcasing just how high their ceiling could be.

“After playing against Towson it kind of opened up our eyes and our mentality like we’ve really got to bring it,” Noah Fernandes said.

Fernandes himself was one of the biggest offensive catalysts for UMass. After a three point performance against Towson, it was unclear whether Fernandes would return to his scoring ways against a similarly tough defensive team in Colorado. After a slow first few minutes, Fernandes made his presence felt, showcasing shot-making, dribbling and 3-point shooting en route to a 22-point night. He also got to the charity stripe with ease, outshooting Colorado’s entire team by three from the line (16 to 13). Freshman RJ Luis was the Minutemen’s second leading scorer, finishing the game with 18 points and five rebounds on an efficient 8-of-11 shooting.

Coming into this contest, the biggest offensive weapon for Colorado was sophomore point guard Simpson. While Simpson scored 13 points, he got to that number inefficiently, shooting 4-of-16 from the floor. Colorado’s other double-digit scorer was da Silva, who finished with 17 points on 8-of-15 shooting. J’Vonne Hadley led the team with nine rebounds while Simpson led the way with six assists.

The Minutemen will play less than 24 hours after this game’s final buzzer, taking on either Murray State or Texas A&M at 2:30 p.m. in the Myrtle Beach Invitational semifinal. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN2.

Dean Wendel can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @dmw204.

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