UMass basketball notebook: Cairo McCrory leads bench to strong 2nd half

  • Cairo McCrory scored a career-high 15 points off the bench Saturday against L CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • Javohn Garcia came off the bench Saturday against La Salle after Dibaji Walker was inserted into the starting lineup. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETIC

  • Cairo McCrory scored a career-high 15 points off the bench Saturday against La Salle. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/10/2021 4:43:38 PM
Modified: 1/10/2021 4:43:18 PM

UMass’ 20-point lead over La Salle in the second half Saturday allowed Matt McCall to utilize the team’s depth more.

The second unit maintained the Minutemen’s advantage and energized the team. Freshman Cairo McCrory connected on two dunks, including an alley-oop from Noah Fernandes with 4 minutes, 18 seconds left in the 83-67 win. He tied for the team lead with 15 points – a career high – and scored 13 of them after halftime.

McCrory grabbed multiple offensive rebounds midway through the second half on one possession before drawing a foul.  He also finished with seven rebounds and a block shooting 75 percent from the floor in just 17 minutes.

“His energy coming off the bench, it’s infectious throughout our team. His ability to rebound, he can guard multiple guys. Coming out of high school everyone was like ‘oh can Cairo McCrory shoot?’ Cairo McCrory can shoot,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “He impacts the game in so many different ways. He’s going to keep growing. He plays with a passion and tenacity the team needs.”

McCrory wasn’t the only bench player campaigning for more minutes. Freshman guard Dyondre Dominguez made a 3 and continued his enthusiastic support.

“Dyondre’s energy coming off the bench is through the roof. Dyondre’s had a great week of practice. He wants to be in the game more. He deserved to be in there because he had a great week of practice. His approach to this game was through the roof,” McCall said. “He’s the only guy you can hear the whole game in the gym. Anytime somebody shoots he yells out.”

The play from the duo allowed McCall to sit sophomore Tre Mitchell more than in previous close games when UMass needed every minute it could get from the reigning Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year. Mitchell was averaging 36.2 minutes per game in the previous five contests.

WALKER JOINS STARTING LINEUP – Junior forward Dibaji Walker started in place of freshman guard Javohn Garcia. McCall liked using Walker’s length as a away to pester La Salle’s guards.

He grabbed a steal at the head of the press in the second half and hit a 3. Foul trouble limited Walker to 15 minutes. He also covered La Salle senior David Beatty, limiting him to 11 points. All 11 came in the second half with UMass comfortably ahead.

“Dibaji takes pride in it. He likes to guard, he likes to take the challenge of guarding the other team’s good players,” McCall said. “He likes to take on the challenge of the matchup.”

ASSISTS, SHMASSISTS? –  Noah Fernandes distributed seven assists, a game high, against the Explorers. He ranks second in the A-10 in both assists (5.8 per game) and assist to turnover ratio (3.9). But the statistic itself doesn’t mean a whole lot to the sophomore guard.

“I was actually thinking about it the other day, everyone talks about assists and it’s a cool stat, but it really has nothing to do with me. I just find guys when they’re open and they knock down the shots,” he said. “I think we need to give these guys knocking down the shots more credit.”

PLAN B FOR MITCHELL – La Salle fronted Mitchell in the post and often tried to guard him with two players. The Explorers switched defenders when Mitchell screened for a pick and roll to keep someone between him and the basket. Then they put a second defender behind him so the Minutemen couldn’t feed it to him over the top.

“Normally when we throw back on a pick and roll we cut opposite, we probably need to look at when teams do that inside cutting to open the floor more,” McCall said. “They did a good job in terms of how they’re defending the with their post fronts and putting two guys on him. That opened things up for some other guys. Teams are going to guard him different ways.”

WEEKS INJURED – Redshirt freshman guard TJ Weeks Jr. left the game with 12:32 left after missing a jumper.

“Just twisted his knee there. I don’t think it’s anything too serious, hopefully,” McCall said.

Weeks is listed as day to day.

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

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