Mark Gasperini fills in admirably for UMass basketball in win over Fordham

  • UMass’ Dibaji Walker goes up for a shot during his team’s 60-54 victory over Fordham Wednesday night at the Mullins Center.

  • UMass’ Carl Pierre goes to the basket during his team’s 60-54 victory over Fordham Wednesday night at the Mullins Center. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • Mark Gasperini started for the first time as a Minuteman and played 31 minutes against Fordham on Wednesday. He scored nine points and grabbed four offensive rebounds at the Mullins Center. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/3/2021 9:42:19 PM

Tre Mitchell left a big hole in UMass’ starting lineup. Good thing Mark Gasperini is 6-foot-10.

Gasperini stepped into the starting lineup Wednesday against Fordham along with Javohn Garcia. UMass faced the Rams without its two best offensive players: Mitchell, the Atlantic 10’s leading scorer, and Noah Fernandes, the consummate point guard and offensive engine. The Minutemen only had eight healthy scholarship players available because of injuries.

“I’m not Tre Mitchell, so I knew I had to do different things to help us win,” Gasperini said. “I knew it was a challenge since I hadn’t played big minutes this year. I knew I was capable and I knew I could do what this team needed for us to win.”

The result wasn’t always pretty, but the UMass men’s basketball team will accept some warts if it means a win. The Minutemen hadn’t played in 10 days, but they held off Fordham 60-54 on Wednesday at the Mullins Center.

Gasperini scored a UMass-career high nine points playing 31 minutes, which was more than his previous four appearances combined. He grabbed five rebounds, four on the offensive end.

“I’ve been having a rough season from a physical standpoint. I’ll probably need a wheelchair tomorrow,” Gasperini said. “Mentally, I feel good. I needed that.”

Garcia had 14 points, his most since the opening weekend against Northeastern, to lead the Minutemen. UMass (6-4, 5-2 Atlantic 10) had three players in double figures: TJ Weeks Jr. scored 13 points, and senior Carl Pierre added 10. Weeks also led the team with 11 rebounds, his first career double-double.

“I felt like I had to impact the game in more ways than scoring,” Weeks said.

The Minutemen only shot 35.1 percent from the field. They hit just 8-of-32 3s. They won despite matching their season low point total from their previous time out: a loss to Davidson.

“I thought we were generating good shots for the most part, they weren’t going in,” UMass coach Matt McCall. “Offensively we struggled at times, but our defense pushed us over the top.”

UMass held Fordham (1-9, 1-9) to 45.8 percent shooting and outrebounded them 36-35. The Minutemen corralled 11 steals and forced 17 turnovers. Gasperini swiped four, while Garcia added three. It was the second-lowest opponent point total of the season. Fordham only scored 46 in Rose Hill Gym earlier this year.

The Rams only led twice: at 2-0 and 12-10. Neither of those leads lasted more than a minute. Weeks canned a 3 with 9 minutes, 51 seconds to halftime to put UMass ahead 13-12, and the Minutemen held Fordham at arms length for the rest of the game.

Josh Navarro led Fordham with 17 points on 50 percent shooting. He hit one of the Rams’ three 3s. Joel Soriano contributed a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds. He had three offensive rebounds. Fordham only used seven players.

UMass eventually built a  12-point lead with 5:26 remaining. That shrunk to four, 53-49, with 2:14 left, but the Minutemen made 5-of-6 free throws down the stretch to seal the game. Gasperini hit 3-of-4 and was 5-of-6 from the line in the game. They were his first free throw attempts as a Minuteman.

It was UMass’ first win since Jan. 17 when the Minutemen also beat Fordham. They only played one game in that stretch, losing to Davidson.

The victory gave UMass its best A-10 start since 2011-12. The Minutemen are tied with VCU for third in the conference a game behind the Wildcats. 

“I give our players a tremendous amount of credit,” McCall said. “That was a gutsy win for our guys.”

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

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