UMass faces James Bishop’s George Washington Saturday

Bishop averages 22.1 points this season


James Bishop and Noah Fernandes battle for a loose ball during UMass’ win over George Washington in the A-10 Tournament. McKenna Premus / Daily Collegian (2022)

By Pedro Gray Soares, Assistant Sports Editor

After controlling the game in its victory against a talented Saint Louis team, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team turns their focus onto the James Bishop-led George Washington Colonials on the road Saturday.

Against GW (7-8, 1-1 Atlantic 10), the Minutemen’s (10-4, 1-1 A-10) biggest challenge is the Colonials point guard, a prolific scorer and passer who can take over a game on his own. Bishop scores 22.1 points per game, ranking top five in the nation, on 56.8 percent true shooting. This season he’s already had 44, 40 and 30-point performances. He also averages five assists per contest, good for top 40 nationally.

George Washington runs everything through Bishop. He has the third highest career usage percentage in the Atlantic 10 since at least 2008. Coming out of a game against the nation’s assist leader Yuri Collins (10.6), UMass is perhaps more prepared than ever to face a dominant point guard.

Not only that, the Minutemen already faced multiple star guards this season, including Collins, North Texas’ Tylor Perry, Colorado’s KJ Simpson, UMass Lowell’s Ayinde Hikim and St. Bonaventure’s Daryl Banks III.

Frank Martin’s group only beat Collins and Simpson of that list, but those losses have something in common: UMass didn’t have its own star point guard, Noah Fernandes, in any of them. Now Fernandes is back from injury, and he looks as good as ever on both ends of the floor despite not being 100 percent.

“Obviously all those guards are different, and they’re all good in their own ways, but at the end of the day the point guard is usually the head of that snake,” Fernandes said. “If you can sort of eliminate that head of the snake usually you could win that fight, for sure.”

UMass and GW played twice last year. Bishop scored 24 in a Colonial win at the Mullins Center midseason, but was held to 15 during a loss to the Minutemen in the A-10 Tournament. Fernandes scored 29 in the second game’s win.

A key part of the game plan for Bishop is handling ball screens, and the Minutemen will treat him much differently than Collins.

“With Collins, you were trying to force him to score,” Martin said. “Our ball screen defense with Collins was ‘don’t let him get downhill, and if he gets downhill make him play at the rim’

“Bishop is the complete opposite. He can pass too, don’t get me wrong, but he’s coming off that ball screen trying to get a basket. So our ball screen defense has to be ‘make him pass’ rather than ‘play the pass,’ and that’s kind of what we’ve been working on the past two days.”

Bishop is the team’s best player, but what makes the Colonials dangerous is the high-level guard trio they possess with Brendan Adams and Maximus Edwards alongside him. Adams and Edwards average 16.3 and 9.6 points per game. Martin says those three guards stick out about George Washington, along with the Colonial’s experience and patience.

One of the main differences between the two teams is that while Martin’s Minutemen have been known for their deep roster and bench usage, Chris Caputo’s Colonials are quite the opposite. UMass ranks fifth in the country in bench minutes percentage, but GW likes to shorten its rotation and ranks all the way down at 345th in that same category, per KenPom. All three of GW’s main guards play more minutes per game than any Minuteman.

For UMass, one of those key rotational pieces has been freshman guard Keon Thompson. In the absence of Fernandes, Thompson was thrown into the fire early, and had to act as the team’s floor general alongside Rahsool Diggins. The first-year player showed maturity and solid defensive skills, earning praise from his coach and teammates alike. He’ll have a big role going head to head with GW’s guards when Fernandes is off the floor.

“[Playing in Noah’s absence] really taught me how much responsibility a point guard has,” Thompson said. “Noah is a big piece that we really value on this team. Him giving me the confidence and advice when he is out means a lot to me. Also, a team really values the point guard spot in college. Without a successful point guard in college a team can really fall apart easily. It taught me a lot of good things, I gained a lot of trust from people.

“It never really mattered to me whether I’m starting or coming off the bench … I always learned as a kid, always be prepared for the moment, no matter what the moment [is] or when the moment will come.”

The game tips off at Charles E. Smith Center in Washington, D.C. at 2 p.m. Saturday.