UMass comes back to beat Harvard on the road 71-68

Noah Fernandes leads the Minutemen’s rally in the second half

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Dan Fritz / UMass Athletics

By Judah Katz, Collegian Staff

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team took an intense 71-68 win against Harvard on Friday. UMass (6-1) fell 10 points behind heading into the second half, only to claw its way back and hit clutch shots to seal the deal.

The Crimson (6-3) relied on a monster night from star forward Chris Ledlum, who finished the game with 25 points and 10 rebounds. Fans of both teams were treated to a see-saw battle that came down to the wire, and further cemented the rivalry building between these two Massachusetts schools.

“[This game] was a hard-fought, highly competitive and intense game and I give [UMass] a lot of credit for bouncing back after we kind of put them in a hole there in the first half,” Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker said. “But we expected that. Their team and coach [Frank] Martin is an outstanding coach and those kids play really hard. And I thought it was great atmosphere of course.”

With 3:20 left, Noah Fernandes limped to the line, struggling to walk and with the game tying free throws within his grasp. Wincing with every ounce of pressure he put on his right foot, he stepped to the line with the support of a dominating UMass crowd. He sank both, tying the game at 63.

He was helped off the court, leaving to a standing ovation and the appreciation of his teammates. The Minutemen’s second half comeback centered around Fernandes, who scored numerous mid-range jumpers and 11 of his 18 points all within the final 10 minutes of the game. His pivot foot manipulation and pump fakes kept his defenders off balance and brought the crowd to its feet.

“He’s a tough player,” Amaker said. “He’s really hard to guard. He’s shifty, crafty, and can make shots from all over the place.”

Friday’s game featured six lead changes, a back-and-forth battle with huge plays from both teams. Harvard relied on free throws, going 21-for-28, and finishing around the rim for 38 points, outshooting UMass in both categories.

The Minutemen fought back with more 3-pointers made on a higher percentage, going 6-for-18 from beyond the arc. The game came down to a few big plays that sealed it for the Minutemen. Veteran guard TJ Weeks hit a three falling out of bounds with 12 minutes left, getting fouled in the process. “It’s a big swing right there, to give them life coming out of the locker room. That was a really big momentum play for them,” Coach Amaker said. Tafara Gapare also hit a couple of clutch shots from deep, including one to take the lead with a minute left.

UMass struggled heavily in the first half to produce any effective offensive movement, forcing themselves into tough shots and late shot clocks. The team shot 32 percent from the field, turning the ball over eight times and scoring 14 points in the paint.

Finishing at the rim has been important for the Minutemen all year, and their first half struggle dug them into a hole heading into the locker room at halftime. It took a team effort getting layups at the rim to get back into the game, and UMass capitalized on slow contests from the Crimson.

Normally, home court gives teams a huge advantage, especially during rivalry games. Harvard found itself being booed by the crowd throughout the game, with the stands taken over by UMass faithful. This Minutemen team is gaining momentum and support due to their hot streak to start the year, improving to 6-1.

UMass will face Albany on Monday, Dec. 5 at the Mullins Center. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.

Judah Katz can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @judah_katz