UMass basketball notebook: TJ Weeks Jr. finds shooting touch

  • TJ Weeks Jr., shown against Rhode Island, broke out of his shooting slump in the first half against Rhode Island. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/18/2021 6:21:21 PM

TJ Weeks Jr. broke out of his month-long shooting slump with a deadeye first 10 minutes against Fordham on Sunday.

The UMass sophomore guard had only made three of his previous 23 shots across four games, dating back to consecutive 1-for-9 performances against Bryant and George Mason. That was a stark contrast to the blistering pace he set last season, when Weeks made 48.5 percent of his 3s through 10 games before a sports hernia ended his season.

The recent slump didn’t bother UMass coach Matt McCall. Weeks was still rebounding, distributing and defending, providing a strong option off the bench.

“I want him to continue to fight and push, but I also want him to play this game with a lot of joy and not get caught in ‘I need to make every single shot,” McCall said Friday before the game at Fordham. “He’s gonna bust loose.”

Weeks checked in after 6 minutes, 41 seconds on Sunday. He made his first 3-pointer 71 seconds later, splashing a wide-open look. On UMass’ next offensive possession, 27 seconds later, the ball swung to Weeks in the right corner, again with no defender to trouble him. Swish.

“It felt nice knowing the hard work I’ve put in on the off days and extra shooting is paying off a little bit,” Weeks said. 

He missed his third attempt but kept shooting. His fourth shot was a long two but likely was meant to be a 3. Weeks just didn’t back up far enough to get behind the 3-point line. He finished with 11 points in 17 minutes, mostly in the first half of a blowout. Weeks injured his knee against La Salle recently, and McCall used the lead to give him some rest.

“I thought he got off to a great start to see the ball go in the basket there. He was a huge piece of that big, big run,” McCall said.

GASPERINI STILL WAITING – Grad transfer Mark Gasperini still hasn’t scored his first points as a Minuteman. The senior center, who previously played at American, tied for his longest appearance in a UMass uniform (8 minutes) and nearly doubled his career shot attempts with the team.

He started all 30 games at American last year, averaging more than 10 points a game.

Gasperini hoisted five attempts, including a 3, and missed all of them. He took six shots in his first seven appearances, totaling 33 minutes.

“We just want everyone to score and have fun. We don’t want one of our brothers to be frustrated,” Weeks said. “I really wanted Mark to score. We’ll get him there, no rush. He’ll get there.”

Gasperini did grab three rebounds.

DEGRAY SHOOTING –  Freshman Ronnie DeGray III lost his spot atop the Atlantic 10 shooting percentage leaderboard after a 4-of-9 afternoon. He’s still second, shooting 65.2 percent for the season.

DeGray had eight points, led UMass with 10 rebounds and distributed two assists.

“He was complaining in the locker room after the game about the bunnies he missed inside that he normally makes,” McCall said. “To do what he’s doing right now, he’s been terrific.”

SHORT BENCH – The Minutemen couldn’t completely turn the game over to the bench in the second half because there wasn’t much of a bench to turn to.

Freshmen Cairo McCrory and Dyondre Dominguez didn’t check in for the second consecutive game. Federal educational rights protecting the privacy of all students at the university has prevented McCall from commenting on their status. Forward Dibaji Walker only played 12 minutes because a wrist injury started to bother him, McCall said.

Kolton Mitchell appeared poised for his longest run of the season when he entered the game with 15:46 left and a 35-point lead. His stint only lasted 38 seconds before colliding with a Fordham player, hitting his head. Mitchell left the game immediately and was holding his head bent over on the sideline.

“That was a pretty nasty collision there. Kolton is relentless in terms of throwing his body into plays,” McCall said Sunday. “We gotta get him home safely and get him checked out.”

SCHEDULE LIKELY TO SHIFT – UMass’ next  scheduled game is at 6 p.m. Wednesday  against Saint Louis and old friend Travis Ford. That is going to change whether with an open date or a new opponent because the Billikens are on pause for COVID-19 protocols.

“I don’t think we’re playing St. Louis. We’re a little banged up, calling it like it is. We would like to get 100 percent healthy that’s the most important thing for us right now. If we can add a team and get 100 percent healthy we’ll do it,” McCall said. “We’re going to do whatever the Atlantic 10 tells us to do . If they pair us up with someone else we’ll do that too.”

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

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