Foul trouble hampers UMass basketball down the stretch in loss at Northeastern

  • UMass senior forward Dibaji Walker, shown earlier this season, will miss the remainder of the year with a leg injury. He's having surgery to repair a broken femur and will be out for a minimum six months. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass’ Trent Buttrick goes up for a dunk during action against Northeastern on Tuesday night at Matthews Arena in Boston.

  • UMass guard Rich Kelly reacts after hitting a 3-pointer against Northeastern on Tuesday night at Matthews Arena in Boston. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass point guard Noah Fernandes celebrates after making a play against Northeastern on Tuesday night. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass point guard Noah Fernandez goes to the basket during his team’s game against Northeastern on Tuesday night at Matthews Arena in Boston. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICs

Staff Writer
Published: 12/7/2021 11:50:08 AM

BOSTON – Noah Fernandes stumbled backwards after making contact with Vito Cubrilo’s forearm.

UMass’ junior point guard thought he’d drawn an offensive foul against the Northeastern guard with 4 minutes, 8 seconds remaining Tuesday at Matthews Arena. The Minutemen trailed by 3 after letting a double-digit lead slip over the preceding seven minutes, and Fernandes was impacting most every possession.

Instead of the charge, Fernandes was called for a block, his fourth foul. He went to the bench for 28 seconds, and the lead grew to seven points. Cubrilo sank both free throws to push it to five, and a T.J. Weeks Jr. turnover on the ensuing possession with Fernandes on the bench led to a Nikola Djogo dunk.

He and sharpshooter C.J. Kelly missed swaths of the second half with foul trouble, which allowed Northeastern to keep the Minutemen at bay. Fernandes accumulated 24 points, seven assists and three steals in 36 minutes. Two of those steals were at the head of the press to start the second half. As his foul count grew, the Minutemen had to back him out of those aggressive postures.

“I thought the game changed with foul trouble. Noah was a one-man press,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “Noah couldn’t be a one-man press anymore when he’s on the bench with four fouls.”

Northeastern held off a late UMass charge and won 82-76. It’s the seventh straight opponent to break 80 points against the Minutemen. The Huskies hadn’t scored more than 74 this season (Friday against Colgate) and were averaging 62.1 points per game entering the contest.

They shot 56 percent from the field and 52.9 percent from 3. Northeastern was making 30 percent for the season from behind the arc entering the game and 43.4 percent from the field.

UMass shot 46.8 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from 3, falling off after a 6-of-8 start from deep.

“It’s not our offense. We scored enough points to win the game, in my opinion,” McCall said. “We have to find ways to continue to improve defensively.”

McCall also pointed to two categories critical to road success: free throw margin and rebounding margin. Northeastern shot 23 free throws compared to 11 for UMass. The Huskies made 17. They also outrebounded the Minutemen 34-29.

“Going on the road, you’ve got to be able to win those two things,” McCall said. “We can’t give up 82 points on the road and expect to win. We’ve got to be better defensively.”

Despite the disparities, UMass still gave itself a swing at the end. Rich Kelly, who scored 19 of his game-high 25 points after halftime, cut the lead to 78-71 with a free throw at 2:09. He missed the second, but Trent Buttrick grabbed an offensive rebound to give back to Kelly for a 3.

Fernandes then hit a nearly horizontal fadeaway jumper to make it 78-76 with 55.8 seconds remaining. The Minutemen secured the stop they needed, and Weeks Jr. grabbed the rebound.

Buttrick missed a clean look at a 3 in the left corner with 12.1 second remaining that would have put UMass ahead late. Buttrick had 15 points and nine rebounds and had made a 3 in the game already.

The Huskies closed the win out with two Djogo free throw sand a Shaquille Walters layup at the buzzer.

“We really battled. I was proud to be out there alongside all the guys,” Rich Kelly said. “It was a cool experienced, but an unacceptable result. We’ve got to get better from this.”

It was a frantic ending to a hectic second half. Scott-Grayson tied the game at 66 with a layup over Fernandes with 7:11 left, but Buttrick reclaimed the UMass lead with two free throws shortly after. Djogo made it 67-66 Northeastern with a 3 with 6:28 remaining.

After UMass exited the half trailing by five, Rich Kelly hit back to back 3s sandwiched around a Fernandes steal to restore the Minutemen’s lead 42-41 1:48 into the second half.

 It changed hands a few times, but Fernandes gave the Minutemen  a 46-45 advantage with another swipe and score. It sparked a 9-0 run that included a third consecutive 3 by Rich Kelly. It put UMass up 51-45 with 15:14 to go.

“I knew I had the touch to hit shots, so I came out aggressive and the guys found me,” Rich Kelly said.

Fernandes scored 11 of UMass’ first 14 points and helped the Minutemen open the game with an 11-2 run.

“That was insane,” Rich Kelly said. “He draws so much attention form the defense that I think it alleviates a lot of pressure from the other guys on the court.”

The Huskies clawed back to tie it at 34 on a Jason Strong jumper. Fernandes immediately snatched the lead back with a transition layup, but Quirin Emanga got to the rack and drew a foul, making the layup to tie the game at 36 and a free throw to give the Huskies their first lead 37-36 with 2:04 to halftime.

It stretched to five on a Strong layup in the first half’s final minute, and Northeastern carried a 41-36 advantage into the break.

WALKER OUT LONG TERM – Forward Dibaji Walker will be out for six months with a leg injury, he announced on Instagram early Tuesday morning.

The senior missed the Minutemen’s comeback win over Harvard and found out “a piece of (his) femur has broken off (his knee) and that’s what had been causing the swelling and pain,” Walker wrote.

Walker will have surgery to alleviate the pain and swelling an avoid future instability.

“I love and appreciate everyone who has been supportive of my journey thus far and those who plan to continue to support me as I recover to play this game that I love and am so passionate about,” he wrote.

Walker, a Columbus, Ohio, native, was averaging 5.4 points and 3.3 rebounds off the bench, scoring in double digits twice. But his real value was the defensive expertise and effort he brought to the floor long with an infectious energy.

“It’s scary to think about what is coming next for me,” Walker wrote. “But I’m most excited about what kind of person this adversity will have molded me into a year from now.”


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