Slamming debut for UMass as Mitchell, Garcia power Minutemen past NU

  • UMass sophomore center Tre Mitchell dunks against Northeastern, Friday at the Mullins Center. UMass won 94-79. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/11/2020 5:52:57 PM

No one told Tre Mitchell the start of season was delayed. UMass’ sophomore center was in midseason form in Friday’s opener, scoring 31 points with 11 rebounds in a 94-79 victory over Northeastern at Mullins Center.

It was the third 30-point game of his career and second in a row, just 279 days after dropping a career-high 34 against Rhode Island in March.

“At the beginning I was a little rusty coming out of that quarantine,” Mitchell said. “There ain’t no excuses, I have to prepare. I was ready to go.”

He made both of his 3s in the first half and hit jumpers from both the wing and elbow, complementing his established post game. Throw in a thunderous, two-handed dunk with 4 minutes, 43 seconds to halftime.

“He was doing it from everywhere on the floor. He could have easily had 40, he missed some shots he normally makes around the basket in the first half,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “He’s the best frontcourt player in the country, and he needs to be recognized as that. He can do it in so many different ways.”

Mitchell shot 13 of 18 from the floor and made five straight shots to close the first half. It wasn’t all scoring, either. He dished two assists and added a block and a steal.

“It’s always great when you can play around that guy who commands a double team and commands extra attention,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. “He’s a willing passer and has great vision out of the post. Not only is he a terrific player himself, but he makes others better around him.”

Mitchell missed his first shot, and it was one of many misses in the early going for two teams seeing their first non-practice action since before the pandemic began. They combined 1-for-8 in the game’s first three minutes.

“Both teams since March to September had very little basketball in their lives,” Coen said.

UMass (1-0) found its next gear faster than the Huskies (0-1). The Minutemen trailed 19-17 with 11:07 remaining in the first half. They ripped off a 13-0 run over the next 3:22 powered by T.J. Weeks and freshman Javohn Garcia. Weeks, playing his first game in more than a year, splashed two 3s and finished with 11 points.

“That’s a sniper from the perimeter. He hunts shots,” McCall said. “He missed some shots he’s capable of making, but I thought he took good shots. We’re going to need him going forward.”

Then Garcia took center stage. He scored 23 points in his collegiate debut, living at the rim and splashing 3s when Northeastern went under screens. Garcia made 9 of 13 shots (2 of 3 from 3-point range) with three steals and four assists.

“I’ve got tremendous confidence in him running our team,” McCall said. “We know how good he is, and we as a coaching staff have to continue to push him. We want him to be one of the best guards in this league. You want to talk about efficiency, he just makes the right read.”

The Minutemen only made 27.3 percent of their 3s in the first half and led 47-36 at the break. Then senior captain Carl Pierre (14 points) hit two triples in the first five minutes of the second half to push the lead to 12. UMass made 6 of 12 shots from behind the arc after halftime.

“Once we got into our flow it was pretty easy from there,” Mitchell said.

The Minutemen pushed the lead to as many as 19 in the second half. They were outrebounded 34-32 but grabbed 12 offensive boards, which led to 14 second-chance points.

UMass’ press helped force 18 turnovers. The Minutemen scored 24 points off turnovers and 10 fast-break points.

“(The press is) something we work on a lot,” Mitchell said. “It’s our depth being able to rotate guys in and they bring the same level of energy.”

Northeastern guard Tyson Walker handled the pressure and his newfound starring role with aplomb. He scored a game-high 29 points making 7 of 9 shots and 13 of 14 free throws. UMass will need to find different answers for him before the teams meet again at noon Sunday in Boston.

“We knew going into the game that Tyson was going to have freedom because that’s how good Tyson is. We’ve got to find ways to get the ball out of his hands,” McCall said. “We’ve got to do a better job in our press not letting him split traps. We’ve got to be much more disciplined on him.”

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



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