UMass basketball notebook: Ronnie DeGray III goes from quarantine to contributor

  • TJ Weeks Jr. took on a more significant role in UMass' offense Wednesday against Fordham. He posted his first career double-double. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS—THOM KENDALL

  • TJ Weeks Jr. took on a more significant role in UMass' offense Wednesday against Fordham. He posted his first career double-double. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS—THOM KENDALL

  • Ronnie DeGray III stepped out of quarantine and onto the court for UMass on Wednesday against Fordham. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS—THOM KENDALL FOR UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/4/2021 5:03:24 PM

Matt McCall asked Ronnie DeGray III if he wanted to play against Fordham during shootaround Wednesday.

Normally that would be a no-brainer for DeGray, who started UMass’ first nine games as a freshman. But he had just exited a 10-day quarantine because of COVID-related contact tracing. DeGray never tested positive for the coronavirus, McCall said. He hadn’t practiced or participated in any basketball activities since UMass’ previous game at Davidson more than a week prior save a 30-minute individual workout on Tuesday.

DeGray wanted to play.

“That shows you the level of character Ronnie DeGray has,” McCall said. “He is all about the team.”

Since he hadn’t played competitive basketball in so long, McCall limited DeGray to 21 minutes, as was the plan from the beginning. He came off the bench since that would help restrict his minutes.

“The last thing we want him to do was get hurt,” McCal said. “I left it up to him really on whether or not he wants to play, and he wanted to play. I can’t say enough about him and his character.”

In those 21 minutes, DeGray tallied eight points, four rebounds a block and a steal, shooting 60 percent from the floor and making a 3.

“Every time he’s on the bench I want to get him back in there because he’s so valuable to our team,” McCall said.

INJURY UPDATES – Tre Mitchell and Noah Fernandes didn’t play against the Rams after suffering injuries against Davidson. Both remain day-to-day in recovery and will be game-time decisions against Rhode Island on Saturday.

“Noah is our primary ball handler he’s got a wrist injury on his shooting hand, that’s tough,” McCall said. “Tre’s starting to get good range of motion, but because of  how physical teams guard him, when he gets hit or takes the first shot on that shoulder, how’s he going to respond?”

Both are regularly consulting with team doctors and trainers and working out to stay in shape. Mitchell ran sprints before Wednesday’s game.

“We’re working with the medical staff to get them to feel as good as possible to go out and play,” McCall said. “We don’t want to put him in a position where he’s getting hurt more.”

Kolton Mitchell returned from concussion protocol and played 10 minutes, grabbing three rebounds. Dibaji Walker added 18 minutes and two points while still managing his wrist injury.

NOTHING’S FREE – UMass tied a season low with 12 free throws made. The Minutemen only attempted 19, their third-fewest of the season. Combine that with their second-most 3-point attempts of the season (32), and the offense looked very different from the Tre Mitchell-focused interior attack from the rest of the year.

“I’m fine with the amount of 3s we took, we just have to make some more,” McCall said. “We didn’t shoot particularly well from the free throw line and didn’t take many of them.”

MCCRORY BRINGS BOUNCE BACK – Freshman Cairo McCrory saw his first action in almost a month against Fordham. He last played Jan. 9 against La Salle.

Wednesday, he played 18 minutes and hit a 3 with 1 minute, 55 seconds left in the first half. McCrory added two rebounds and a steal.

“Having him out on the floor really helps. He can play multiple positions, he can impact the game so much with his athleticism,” McCall said. “He made a big 3 in the first half when we were struggling to shoot from the perimeter. We’ve got to find ways to get him the ball a little more.”

CRUNCH TIME – UMass saw its 12-point lead shrink to four in the late stages of the second half. The Minutemen previously struggled to hold leads against Bryant and George Mason, but their tight bench stabilized over the final two minutes to secure the win.

“Some of those guys haven’t been in that situation a ton this year. Tre and Noah are normally in those situations, so other guys had to be in there and stepped up,” McCall said. “I thought going into the game our focus level in practice was really, really good.”

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

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