UMass basketball takes down Saint Louis to end 4-game losing streak

  • UMass forward Greg Jones attempts a shot in close against Saint Louis on Thursday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass guard Noah Fernandes fires a 3 against Saint Louis on Thursday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass guared C.J. Kelly drives against Saint Louis on Thursday in the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass coach Matt McCall gives instructions for the Minutemen against Saint Louis o CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass guard Javohn Garcia calls timeout after diving on the floor for a loose ball against Saint Louis on Thursday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/20/2022 10:14:11 PM

AMHERST – Deep in the hole, the UMass men’s basketball team kept digging to come out the other side.

The Minutemen went 7-of-7 from the free throw line and made 3-of-3 shots from the field over the final three minutes to beat Saint Louis 91-85 on Thursday at the Mullins Center. It snapped a four-game losing streak and paid off weeks of binding together.

“We've been down in the dumps a bunch of times and fought our way out,” UMass guard Noah Fernandes said. “We’re not going to give up, we’re just going to go even harder.”

Fernandes hung in the air and absorbed contact from Saint Louis big Francis Okoro before sinking a jumper with 46.9 seconds left to put the Minutemen ahead for good. That made it 84-83 UMass and fouled out Okoro, who scored 16 points for the Billikens. He connected on the free throw to give UMass an 85-83 lead.

Fernandes led the Minutemen (8-9, 1-4 Atlantic 10) with 24 points and six assists, making 8-of-11 from the free throw line.

T.J. Weeks levitated and rejected Lassina Traore, a 6-foot-9 forward, with 30 seconds remaining on a layup attempt that would have tied the game at 85. Greg Jones (13 points) secured the rebound and sank two free throws after being fouled to make it 87-83.

“There’s significant, game-winning plays that don’t go down in the stat sheet, but you get back to the locker room and it’s not the points and all the cool moves that you really appreciate,” Fernandes said. “It’s plays like T.J. made that really stand out.”

Javohn Garcia put a bow on the victory, which snapped a four-game losing streak with a tomahawk dunk with six seconds remaining.

Garcia, who scored 15 points, put the Minutemen ahead 82-81 with a spinning layup off the glass with 1:32 remaining, and Okoro responded with a layup for Saint Louis (11-6, 2-2) 20 seconds later to return the lead.

Fernandes gave UMass an 80-78 lead with 2:09 left with two free throws. The Minutemen went to the line 33 times compared to 20 for Saint Louis, tying a season high they set at Yale and against UMass Lowell.

“Our guards were doing an unbelievable job putting pressure in the paint,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “We weren’t settling.”

Both teams were in the double bonus for the final 2 minutes, 56 seconds. Eventually, all those fouls wore on the Billikens’ depth.

Saint Louis point guard Yuri Collins picked up his third foul with 9:11 remaining. The Minutemen took a 66-63 lead in the minute and a half he was on the bench with six free throws.

His fourth foul came 27 seconds after he re-entered the game and put UMass into the double bonus. Okoro was called for his fourth foul with 6:36 remaining. 

While those stalwarts were on the bench, the Minutemen built a 77-71 lead punctuated by a Garcia 3 with 4:09 remaining. Collins checked back in at 3:53 with Gibson Jimerson at the free throw line. He made two free throws to cut the lead to 4.

Terrence Hargrove Jr. tied the game at 78 with a 3 with 2:38 remaining, forcing a UMass timeout.

Fred Thatch Jr., who scored 20 for Saint Louis, also accumulated four fouls.

The Minutemen attempted 25 free throws in the second half compared to just eight in the first 20 minutes. They were 21-of-25 after halftime and shot 78.8 percent in the game.

“We needed this game for us mentally, physically, we needed to win by any means,” Jones said. “We went up there with confidence and knew we were going to make the shot.”

UMass kept pace with the Billikens in the first half. They built a 22-15 lead 7:29 in when Jimerson hit a 3 to make it 22-15. 

The Minutemen responded with a 10-0 run to build a three-point advantage. They only allowed one Saint Louis shot attempt during the stretch and forced two turnovers.

The teams stayed within a possession of each other for the remainder of the half. Fernandes had an opportunity to tie the game entering halftime with two free throws after he was fouled with 3.4 seconds left. He sank 1-0f-2 to make it 38-37 Saint Louis.

Collins was whistled for a carry, and the Minutemen received the ball with 0.7 seconds remaining. The UMass bench and faithful in the arena lobbied the officials to check the clock, thinking the Minutemen should have more time for a shot. The referees gave the ball to UMass to inbound without changing it,  and Rich Kelly missed a con tested shot at the buzzer.

Jimerson led the Billikens with 23 points.

Five Minutemen reached double figures, and eight had at least five points. Trent Buttrick and Rich Kelly Each added 10 points. C.J Kelly, playing his first game since Jan. 8 against Duquesne, led the team with nine rebounds.

“I thought everybody contributed something,” McCall said.

It was UMass’s first win over Saint Louis since Feb. 8, 2020, after the Minutemen went 0-2 last season against the Billikens, including a season-ending loss in the A-10 quarterfinals. The teams will do it again at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis.

“The job’s not finished. We’ve got to go to their spot, it's going to be harder to beat them twice and playing them on the road,” Fernandes said. “We’ve got to move past, not get too high, not get too low. Stay steady, and keep pushing.”

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

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