Noah Fernandes’ 28 points help UMass basketball best George Mason in OT for regular season finale

Staff Writer
Published: 3/5/2022 9:44:15 PM

Matt McCall broke out his dancing shoes.

Surrounded by players that he won’t be leading next year, the UMass men’s basketball team’s lame duck coach kicked his feet and swung his arms as Rich Kelly dumped a water bottle on him. The Minutemen circled around him clapping and mirroring as McCall – a 40-year old father of three – hit the griddy, the latest viral dance craze.

It was an unexpected outpouring of joy in George Mason’s EagleBank Arena visitor’s locker room Saturday. UMass had just defeated the Patriots 83-80 in overtime, its second consecutive victory since the school announced it would make a coaching change after the season.

“It’s been an emotional week. For those guys to fight and battle the way that they continued to with everything that’s transpired, that’s pretty special,” McCall said. “I’m extremely grateful for everyone in that locker room.”

The Minutemen trailed double digits with 13:50 left after a Josh Oduro layup put George Mason up 52-42. UMass (14-16, 7-11 A-10) then ripped off a 10-2 run, and Rich Kelly, who finished with 20 points, tied it at 54 with a jumper in the paint at 7:52.

Two minutes later, Greg Jones gave UMass its first lead of the frame 60-59 with a dunk. The Minutemen held the advantage for much of the final six minutes until Devon Cooper leveled the score at 68 with 1:06 to go. The teams missed three combined 3s to send the game to overtime.

George Mason (14-15, 7-9) built a four-point lead with 1:40 left after Cooper hit a 3.

Fernandes, who scored a career-high 28 points, answered with a 3 of his own 13 seconds later, and Trent Buttrick put UMass ahead 78-77 with his own jumper as 49 seconds showed on the clock.

“He just kept saying to me that he's got me. In the timeouts, before the game, after the game, halftime,'We got you coach, don't worry coach, I got you coach,'” McCall said. “It's been a pleasure to coach him.”

The Minutemen then made 5-of-6 free throws down the stretch to seal the victory, their first over George Mason since Feb. 9, 2020.

“We ain’t never gonna give up, man,” Fernandes said. “If you can judge us on one game that would be the one, for sure.”

UMass demolished George Mason on the glass, grabbing 45 rebounds compared to 35 for the Patriots. Jones (nine points) led the Minutemen with nine, while Buttrick (nine points) grabbed eight and Fernandes added five.

“Controlling the backboard was a huge part of that,” McCall said. “I thought our physicality, our guys did an amazing job.”

The result combined with Rhode Island’s loss to Saint Joseph’s locks the teams into a rematch in the second round of the Atlantic 10 tournament at 6 p.m. Thursday in Washington, D.C. UMass is the No. 10 seed, while George Washington is No. 7. The winner will play No. 2 Dayton at 6 p.m. Friday in the quarterfinals.

“This last game of the season we wanted to finish off the right way, do something in that environment,” Fernandes said. "(McCall’s) my guy. Just wanted to go out there and give it all for him because he gave me this opportunity to come in here and showcase what I could do."

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