UMass basketball brushes Fordham aside with blistering 1st half

  • Tre Mitchell, shown against Rhode Island, made three straight 3s early against Fordham on Sunday to power a decisive run for the Minutemen. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS—THOM KENDALL FOR UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/17/2021 6:59:36 PM

A barrage of UMass 3-pointers buried Fordham early.

The Minutemen made nine 3s in the first half and built a 30-point lead at Rose Hill Gym on Sunday afternoon before coasting to a 65-46 victory in Atlantic 10 action in the Bronx.

UMass made 64.3 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc in the first half after shooting just 20 percent from deep against Rhode Island earlier in the week.

“The offense was flowing and once we started hitting, they sat in a zone and that let everyone be open for 3s and we were hitting them early,” UMass sophomore TJ Weeks Jr. said.

UMass (5-3, 4-1 Atlantic 10), which moved into a tie for first place in the conference standings, initially trailed 2-0. Then sophomore center Tre Mitchell hit three 3s in a row from the same spot at the top of the key to ignite a 16-1 run. He popped out after setting a pick each time to clear the required space while Fordham was attempting to stifle a roll to the basket.

The Minutemen hit 5-of-6 3s in that stretch. In fact, their first six baskets were 3-pointers. UMass didn’t make a shot from inside the arc for the first 11 minutes, 50 seconds when Weeks splashed a long jumper that came just inside the 3-point line.

“We had good movement going into that that led to those 3s. The ball hit the paint and guys were unselfish trying to find the open man,” UMass coach Matt McCall said.

The Minutemen, which led 44-15 at intermission, tallied 11 assists on 13 first-half field goals. Fordham (1-5, 1-5) turned the ball over 11 times, as UMass’ defense forced the issue.

The Rams shot 26.9 percent in the first half. They had more turnovers than points for most of the frame and finished with more giveaways than field goals.

The Mintuemen played man-to-man defense the entire first half except when Fordham inbounded the ball. They switched between even and odd man fronts for their presses, asking different questions of the Rams each time they brought the ball up the floor. It was UMass’ strongest defensive half since also allowing 15 points against Maine in Dec. 2017.

“That’s a defensive clinic right there,” McCall said.

The second half didn’t look nearly as good for UMass despite a strong start. The Minutemen exited halftime on an 8-2 run that pushed their lead to 52-17, their largest of the day, with 15:58 left.

From that point on, Fordham outscored UMass 29-13. The Minutemen shot 4-of-20 from the field and missed all nine 3s.

“We’ve got to do that for all 40 minutes. We can’t let them start scoring again the second half or get comfortable with our lead,” Weeks said “That’s the next step.”

UMass didn’t score for 5:21 between Mitchell’s jumper at 14:28 and another Mitchell layup with 9:07 left. He led the visitors with 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds.

Fordham pulled as close as 17 with 4:17 left after Chris Austin sank a jumper to make it 60-43. UMass freshman Ronnie DeGray III responded with a jumper on the next possession to push back.

“We’re gonna learn from this game, we’re gonna take from it and get better, but we’re happy that we won,” McCall said. “We don’t want to take away from that, either.”

The Minutemen closed out their third consecutive win with no drama. They’re off to their best start in conference since 2013-14, when UMass also started 4-1 in the A-10 and made the NCAA Tournament.

“We have a ton of room to grow,” Weeks said. “We haven’t played our best basketball yet and we’re just getting there.”

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

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