A10 Tournament: UMass basketball overwhelms Saint Joseph’s with 3-point barrage

  • TJ Weeks Jr. made four 3s in the first half and scored 13 points. UMass hit 15 triples in a dominant 100-66 win over Saint Joseph’s on Thursday at the Robins Center in Richmond, Va.  BRIAN MCWALTERS/ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE

  • UMass sophomore center Tre Mitchell collected his first double-double since the season opener with 15 points and 11 rebounds against Saint Joseph’s on Thursday at the Robins Center in Richmond, Va. The Minutemen won 100-66 to advance to the Atlantic 10 Tournament quarterfinals. BRIAN MCWALTERS/ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE

  • UMass freshman Ronnie DeGray III, left, dives on the floor with Noah Fernandes, right, and Cairo McCrory in pursuit. The Minutemen won their first Atlantic 10 tournament game since 2018 on Thursday against Saint Joseph’s at the Robins Center in Richmond, Va. BRIAN MCWALTERS/ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE

Staff Writer
Published: 3/4/2021 5:29:02 PM

Saint Joseph’s defensive game plan centered around stopping UMass sophomore center Tre Mitchell. He received a screenshot of a text discussing how focused the Hawks would be on him before Thursday’s  Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Championship second round matchup.

“Our guys are going to have a field day,” Mitchell said.

The Hawks locked in on Mitchell, ultimately opening up the 3-point line for the rest of the Minutemen to fire away in a historic blowout. Six UMass players reached double figures – including Mitchell – in a 100-66 victory at the Robins Center in Richmond, Va.

The win sets up a rematch with No. 4 Saint Louis in the quarterfinal round at 1 p.m. Friday.

Thursday’s win was the largest margin of victory in A-10 tournament history (34). It was the first time a team hit triple digits since George Washington in 1999. Only four teams have ever scored more than 100 in tournament history.

UMass sank 15 3s, the second most in tournament history behind St. Bonaventure’s 17 in 2002. The school record is 18.

The fifth-seeded Minutemen lit up the No. 13 Hawks in the first half, shooting 60 percent from the 3-point line. The Minutemen made 12 3s in the first half, which set the season high in just 19 minutes, 20 seconds. Ronnie DeGray III started the barrage on UMass’ first offensive possession, hitting a wide-open 3 from the left wing.

His second 3 started a 23-5 burst that put UMass up 33-10 with 10:43 to halftime and included an 18-0 run and four players making at least one 3.

“Guys hitting shots, it’s contagious,” DeGray III said.

Six players hit a 3 in the first half, and TJ Weeks Jr. led the way with four. He went 4-of-6 from behind the 3-point line en route to a 14-point outing. Noah Fernandes made all three of his 3s, scoring 14 points in the game. UMass added 11 assists in the first half.

“We worked hard against Tre Mitchell, and he deserves that attention,” Saint Joseph’s coach Billy Lange said. “How do you stop a transition pull up 3? How do you stop a step back 3? That’s what makes UMass a very good basketball team. Those guys made incredible shots tonight.”

UMass added 11 assists in the first half and shot 65.7 percent from the field. The Minutemen led 59-36 at halftime, their highest scoring first half since 2008 when they put up 61 on La Salle. They outpaced their full game output in Monday’s loss at Saint Louis in just 20 minutes.

“I thought us getting off to a great start today was extremely important,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “It’s interesting, and this is not to put pressure on Ronnie in any way because he’s been a terrific player for us, but when he plays well we generally play well.”

DeGray had 13 points in the first half and finished with a game-high 19. Javohn Garcia added 17, and Mitchell scored 15 with 11 rebounds.

“Their best player is Tre Mitchell and we didn’t want him to beat us, and in return they made a ton of 3s,” Saint Joseph’s senior Ryan Daly said. “We weren’t locked in defensively. They made a lot of shots, more shots than we expected.”

The shots kept going in to start the second half. Senior captain Carl Pierre (14 points) drained three 3s in the first minute to push UMass’ lead to 32.

“We found the open man. The ball moved. We weren’t at all stagnant. We weren’t trying to play robotic,” McCall said. “That was the focus we needed to start the second half.”

The lead ballooned to as many as 37 with 5:25 left when Mark Gasperini sank a hook shot. The victory snapped the Hawks’ four-game winning streak and ended UMass’ two-game losing streak. The Minutemen won an Atlantic 10 game for the first time since 2018 and reached the quarterfinals for the first time since 2016.

The Billikens await. They haven’t played since Monday’s win over UMass, a result that secured the fourth seed and a double bye into Friday’s quarterfinal.

“Once we start to hoop like that, we get into a flow. We’ve got another game (Friday), and I believe it’s going to carry right over,” Mitchell said. “No one wants our season to be over with, so we’re going to put it all on the line.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.


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