Minutemen win 75-65 over Rhode Island without Noah Fernandes

Matt Cross scores a career-high 22 points

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Dylan Nguyễn/Daily Collegian (2023)

By Judah Katz, Collegian Staff

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team fought off a late-game comeback from the University of Rhode Island on Saturday in its 75-65 win. The Minutemen (11-6, 2-3 Atlantic 10) shot 36 percent from the field, while shooting 33 percent from beyond the arc. The Rams (6-11, 2-3 A-10) fought to keep the game close in the second half, but fell to the relentless pressure from UMass in front of a fired up Amherst home crowd.

The Minutemen were short two key members of their lineup due to injury, one being senior point guard Noah Fernandes. Fernandes normally initiates the offense and keeps the whole team on the same page on the floor. Against URI, Keon Thompson and Rahsool Diggins stepped up and plugged that hole. Thompson finished the game with nine points, seven rebounds, and five assists at the point guard position.

“He ran our team today offensively, defensively,” said UMass head coach Frank Martin. “I gave him a hug in the hallway. I’m so proud of him because I’ve been really hard on him.

Martin told media how Thompson was upset with the way he played a few weeks ago, prompting him to work with assistants 1-on-1 to improve before practice.

“I feel like I played awesome,” Thompson said. “I feel like I’ve seen a lot of improvement and a lot of confidence in myself out there. I’m always working on my game every day, I’m starting to see my work really [show itself] out there.”

The Minutemen got another push by Diggins, who previously struggled finding consistency to start the season. Diggins ended the game with seven points and two steals.

“He played with a different aggression yesterday in practice and it carried over to today,” Martin said.

Noah Fernandes averages the most points per game for UMass this season, and his absence was noticeable to start the game. The Minutemen needed someone to kickstart their offense, and Matt Cross initiated. He scored a game-high 22 points, including 12 free throws.

UMass got to the free throw line 30 times against the Rams, its second highest number of attempts all season. The team made a total of 23, with 19 coming in the second half. They average just over 14 attempts per game from the charity stripe for the season and doubled that total to keep the game just beyond the reach of URI.

The Rams fought their way back from a 51-42 deficit halfway through the second half, tightening the score to just a four-point lead with six minutes left. When the Minutemen needed a spark, they turned to Dyondre Dominguez.

“[Dominguez] brings unbelievable energy to the game,” Martin said.

Dominguez sent the crowd into a frenzy with an and-one layup in transition with five minutes left in regulation. Dominguez had 12 points in the game, seven of which came in the second half.

The Rams relied on point guard Ishmael Leggett for their scoring, who finished the game with 19 points and three rebounds. URI’s Jalen Carey scored 12 as well, including three assists.

“I’m really really happy for these players that they figured out a way to compete to how we try to play, and that they were rewarded with a win,” Martin said.

The Minutemen travel to Richmond, VA to take on VCU on Tuesday, Jan. 17. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

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