UMass men’s basketball hangs on to win Myrtle Beach Invitational

The Minutemen defeated Charlotte 60-54

ESPN Images

ESPN Images

By Joey Aliberti, Managing Editor

For the first time since 2013, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team won an in-season tournament. The Minutemen (4-1) defeated Charlotte 60-54 Sunday, taking home the 2022 Myrtle Beach Invitational trophy.

Now assistant coach Derek Kellogg headed that 2013-14 UMass team, which is also the only Minutemen squad to go to the NCAA Tournament this century. Not to mention the previous three winners of the Invitational went on to have success afterwards.

Minutemen coach Frank Martin needed five games to take home his first in-season tournament, defeating Colorado, Murray State and now the 49ers (4-1) to do so. Those three teams have a combined 10-5 record this season, including wins over No. 22 Tennessee and No. 24 Texas A&M.

“Just complete team effort on both ends,” point guard Noah Fernandes said. “We owe it all to each other for going out there and giving each other all we got to win this tournament.”

Fernandes took home the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award, highlighted by his game-winning 3-pointer Friday against Murray State. He finished the three-game stretch averaging 15 points and three assists. His offensive impact wasn’t nearly as felt Sunday, finishing with nine points on 3-of-10 shooting, but he’d been the winning team’s best player for much of the weekend.

“He’s a winner man,” Martin said. “I saw Noah play a lot in high school. And I was always amazed by how he controlled games that he played in. Now that I’m coaching him, I understand why he’s so good. Here’s what’s crazy, he’s a shell of himself right now. He had wrist surgery in the summer, he missed all the summer workouts. Not just in the weight room but also conditioning, and the basketball court. I didn’t get a chance to understand what he’s good at up until late September when he got cleared to start practicing.”

None of UMass’ opponents reached over 70 points this season. The last time the Minutemen did that over their first five games was the 2010-11 season. UMass forced Charlotte to tie its season-low in points, holding the 49ers to 37 percent from the field and 24 percent on 3-pointers.

Defensive pressure burdened Charlotte all game, the Minutemen made it difficult for the 49ers to get their offense established. Charlotte constantly found itself with little time left on the shot clock before it had to make a play at the basket.

Scoring gave the Minutemen control, but defense was the reason they kept it. The 49ers leading scorers on the season are guards Jackson Threadgill, Brice Williams and Lu’Cye Patterson, who combined for 31 points per game heading into Sunday. UMass’ guards and wings had their best defensive game, forcing the ball out of their hands and making Charlotte coach Ron Sanchez rely on his bigs to produce. The 49ers guard trio finished the game 5-of-19 with 17 points and five turnovers.

“We created a little bit of our identity this week, especially on the defensive end and rebounding the ball,” Fernandes said. “We really focused on that going into every game and I think we executed and sort of built a piece of our identity.”

For virtually the entire game UMass had the lead. A blazing-hot shooting stretch in the first half gave the Minutemen enough cushion to win despite getting outscored in the second. Noah Fernandes, T.J. Weeks, Matt Cross, Brandon Martin and Wildens Leveque took the primary share of minutes, all of whom played at least 25. Those five created a 12-0 run that immediately created a gap.

The Minutemen’s shooting success drastically cooled down in the second half. They shot 60 percent from the field and 83 percent from the arc during the first 20 minutes, no matter the defense from Charlotte, shots kept falling. Their field goal percentage was 30 percent and 3-point was 28 in the second half.

Quietly impactful performances played a large part in the UMass’ win. No player finished with more than 12 points and only Cross (12) and Weeks (11) scored in double digits. Forwards Brandon Martin and RJ Luis corralled three offensive rebounds and both made life difficult for the 49ers defensively, with Luis adding two steals. Freshman point guard Keon Thompson dished out a game-high four assists. He also blocked a 49ers shot that would’ve trimmed the scoring margin to six, which instead led to a 3-pointer and kept Charlotte out of the game and down 11.

UMass has over a week off before it takes on South Florida on Tuesday, Nov. 29. That game will take place in Tampa, FL with a 7:00 p.m. tip-off.

Joey Aliberti can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @JosephAliberti.