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

Observations from UMass men’s basketball’s 70-59 loss to George Mason

Noah Fernandes and Matt Cross were out for second straight game
Dylan Nguyen / Daily Collegian

Riding a two-game winning streak but without its two leading scorers, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team headed into opponent territory to face George Mason. Both teams were among six Atlantic 10 schools sitting at a 4-5 conference record, with each win worth its weight in gold. But UMass couldn’t overcome a tough shooting night, losing 70-59.

Still, it wasn’t a particularly bad performance by the Minutemen (13-9, 4-6 A-10) who executed for most of the game and had a lead at times. But with shots not falling and lapses in concentration, UMass let it slip away. The Patriots (13-10, 5-5 A-10) showed why they’re 11-2 at home.

“Really proud of our guys,” Minutemen coach Frank Martin said. “Our preparation was tremendous, we played really hard for the most part … Sometimes we lose and I’m not happy with execution, I’m not happy with mindset; sometimes you lose because the other team just played better, and give Mason credit. Our guys tried their hearts out. I’m as proud as I can be, we just couldn’t score enough to keep up with that game.”

TJ Weeks had 18 points on 6-for-17 from the field and 3-for-11 from deep. Wildens Leveque followed with 12 points on 6-for-9.

George Mason had a surprise contributor, freshman Justyn Fernandez, go for a career-high 18 points, while star forward Josh Oduro added 15 points and nine rebounds. Fernandez fed off the crowd’s energy and participated in many of the Patriots’ scoring runs.

– In the absence of Matt Cross — who according to UMass coach Frank Martin lost around 17-18 pounds recently due to stomach sickness — and Noah Fernandes (ankle) true freshman RJ Luis has stepped up massively in recent games. Named the conference’s Rookie of the Week, Luis averaged 27 points, six rebounds and 3.5 assists in two wins. But Wednesday night couldn’t have gone much worse for the guard, who finished scoreless in 14 minutes after shooting 0-for-4 and turning it over three times, then left the game early in the second half when his nose started gushing blood after colliding with a Patriots player.

– Freshman guard Keon Thompson started the first game of his career, with Rahsool Diggins dropping to the bench. It wasn’t a bad start for Thompson, but a fair share of freshman mistakes made their way into his performance. He often forced the ball to the basket and missed easy passes multiple times, but did finish as one of three UMass players with double-digit points (10).

“He was awesome, man, he tried his heart out,” Martin said. “We just played a really good team on the road, and as a true freshman he answered the bell. His effort, his desire, he’s grown up so much as a player from day one to where we’re at right now. He had five turnovers, three of them he saw the play, he made the pass and he just quite didn’t drop it in the right place.”

– UMass made it a point of emphasis to get TJ Weeks looks in the perimeter from the start. Weeks, the teams’ best 3-point shooter, hadn’t had a double-digit scoring night in five games, but ended his drought with the game’s highest usage rate at 26.6 percent.

“[If] we’re going to go on the road and win [Weeks] has got to make them,” Martin said. “He’s a shooter, you got to make shots. Not trying to blame him, it’s just the reality of the matter.”

– George Mason was down 28-21 with 2:32 left in the first half but went on a 10-0 run until the end of the half, propelled by poor execution from UMass and two offensive fouls by Luis.

– DeVon Cooper didn’t shoot well (3-for-10) but controlled the game with his passing. He reached the 300th assist of his career in the game and finished with a career-high eight assists.

– UMass shot 36.9 percent from the field, 23.1 percent from three and 55.6 from the line. With such poor shooting all around, one of the reasons it stayed in the game was by out-rebounding George Mason 15-7 on the offensive glass.

– UMass’ highly touted freshman Tafara Gapare struggled on both sides of the court whenever he entered the game, but especially on the defensive end. Mason targeted him often, and it proved effective.

– Wildens Leveque has been one of the Minutemen’s best defenders but struggled on offense so far this season, yet on Wednesday the script flipped. He was often scored on in the low post and was easily blown by, but had perhaps his best offensive performance yet with 12 points on 6-for-9 shooting. Still, Leveque continues to struggle to rebound.

“That’s why he plays, man,” Martin said of his impact. “That’s why for four years he’s been with me. He drives me nuts but I’m going to keep throwing him out there. He’s a beautiful human being, he works his tail off, he’s a great teammate… Somehow, someway he’s got to rebound the basketball… That’s a recurring occurrence with him throughout his career. He works too hard to not be able to come up with rebounds. You tell me who we’re playing, where we’re playing, and if Wildens is on my team we’re showing up.”

– Dyondre Dominguez always putting his body on the line is a story that continued against the Patriots. His toughness was palpable, and his role on the defensive glass has been crucial for the Minutemen over the last two games with 11 boards in each.

– Martin experimented with a new late-game lineup consisting of Thompson, Diggins, Weeks, Dominguez and Leveque. The absence of Fernandes and Cross, the injury to Luis and Isaac Kante’s foul trouble left him with no other choice. It did not work, given the Patriots pulled away and achieved their largest lead of the game (13) against that lineup.

– Kante might’ve been useful had he not picked up four fouls in eight minutes and missed two layups.

UMass will be back in action on Saturday, Feb. 4th at home against Davidson. Tipoff is set for 12:30 p.m.

Pedro Gray Soares can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @P_GraySoares.

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