UMass basketball puts La Salle away early

  • UMass sophomore Noah Fernandes finished with 13 points, seven assists and seven rebounds in the Minutemen’s 83-67 win over La Salle at the Mullins Center on Saturday. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • Dyondre Dominguez, top, and Ronnie DeGray III helped the UMass men’s basketball team beat La Salle 83-67 on Saturday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/9/2021 8:03:29 PM
Modified: 1/9/2021 8:03:12 PM

Noah Fernandes knows his way around an exclamation point. The sophomore guard splashed a 3 as the first half buzzer expired, polishing a 12-0 UMass run to end the frame.

“We work on those situations all the time. The coaches do a great job of putting me in the position where I know what to do before it happens, and that was one of those cases there,” Fernandes said.

It extended the Minutemen’s lead over La Salle to 24 points, and the UMass men’s basketball team kept going in an 83-67 win Saturday at the Mullins Center.

UMass (3-3, 2-1 Atlantic 10), which broke a two-game losing streak, initially trailed La Salle 3-2 in the game’s first 2 minutes, 8 seconds. Then Carl Pierre made a layup 27 seconds later that gave the Minutemen a lead they never relinquished.

They outscored the Explorers (5-6, 2-2 A-10) 43-18 over the next 17:51. Tre Mitchell scored 10 of his 11 points in the first half.

“Every game teams are preparing for Tre and different ways they’re going to double him. When Tre starts the game on fire like he did, that opens up so many things for everybody else,” Fernandes said. “Everybody stays ready and we know that Tre is a great passer and he’s going to get the ball to everybody else.”

Mitchell finished with two assists and eight rebounds.

It was UMass’ best defensive half of the season. The Minutemen held La Salle to just 21 points and 29 percent shooting. The Explorers, the second most accurate 3-point shooting team in the conference, only made 2-of-9 from beyond the arc in the first half. They didn’t score for the final 3:08 until halftime.

“Going into the game we were concerned about guarding their guards off the bounce,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “We put a focus and an emphasis in practice on guarding the ball. Coming out of Bryant we changed how we’re guarding pick and rolls.”

Fernandes also opened the second half with a 3, making it a 15-0 run overall. That gave UMass its largest lead of 27 points up 48-21 with 18:51 left. La Salle didn’t score until David Beatty made a 3 34 seconds later. Beatty sat most of the first half with foul trouble.

UMass started the second half roughly after Fernandes’ opening 3. The Minutemen turned the ball over four times in the first five minutes. But La Salle couldn’t reduce the deficit below 20 points because of the way UMass was defending.

“We try to maintain our composure and continue to get stops. If you keep getting stops it cancels out the mistakes you might make on the offense end,” UMass senior Carl Pierre said.

The lead never was smaller than 15 points in the second half largely because UMass shot 11-of-18 from the free throw line after halftime. The Minutemen made 22-of-32 free throws in the game, while La Salle attempted just nine free throws, making four.

“We were being aggressive. We tried to get in the lane a lot of the game and make plays for the next person,” Pierre said.

The Minutemen also controlled the boards. They out-rebounded the Explorers 43-33.

“The biggest stat of the game was the rebounding battle,” McCall said. “If we could win the rebounding battle I felt good about our chances. That’s an effort stat. Defensively we’ve made a lot of strides, we’ve grown and we need to continue to do that.”

UMass finished with 19 assists on 26 made baskets. Fernandes led the team with seven assists and grabbed seven rebounds to go along with 13 points.

“He’s poised, he runs our team. Even late in the game, they’re pressing and he wants the ball in his hands dribbling through guys,” McCall said.

Seven players were in the game for more than 20 minutes, and Dyondre Dominguez played 19. Four Minutemen reached double figure scoring led by Pierre and Cairo McCrory with 15 points each.

The victory broke UMass’ two-game losing streak. It was the Minutemen’s first win since beating La Salle on Dec. 16. They had one game postponed by positive COVID-19 cases in Saint Louis’ program and another by the insurrection in Washington on Wednesday.

“It’s been a pretty emotional week. The fact that we’ve only been able to play 2 games in 18 days, to be able to come out after a pretty long layoff and play with the effort that we did, I was very impressed,” McCall said. “I thought it was a total team win.

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

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