UMass basketball notebook: Minutemen thankful for week of rest, practice & preparation before facing Harvard

  • UMass forward Greg Jones battles for a loose ball against Rutgers on Nov. 27. The Minutemen will host Harvard in their third consecutive game at the Mullins Center on Saturday.

  • UMass guard Noah Fernandes attacks the basket against Rutgers on Nov. 27. The Minutemen will host Harvard at noon Saturday. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Published: 12/2/2021 7:37:48 PM
Modified: 12/2/2021 7:37:15 PM

AMHERST – After a breakneck pace to start the season playing eight games in 18 days, the UMass men’s basketball team appreciated a scheduling break to rest, prepare and practice. The full week between games is the second longest break of the season. The Minutemen will go eight days between games twice later this month.

They’ve only previously had at most three days between contests and played back to back and three games in four days at the Jersey Mike’s Classic.

“It’s been good to have some time to have more than two or there days to prepare for a team,” UMass guard Noah Fernandes said. “We had all week to just lock in on what Harvard does. I feel a lot more prepared.”

UMass (5-3) will host the Crimson at noon Saturday. It’s the third game in a row at the Mullins Center. The Minutemen beat UMass Lowell and Rutgers last week. This is tied for UMass’ longest homestand of the season. There are also three games in a row at the Mullins Center from Dec. 19-30.

“All the traveling and everything, it's taxing,” UMass forward Trent Buttrick said. “So it’s good just be able to get back home and get back into routine. It’s nice to get some good sleep.”

BEST IN THE BAY STATE? – Exempting last year when the Ivy League didn’t sponsor any competition, UMass and Harvard have played each other every year since 2014. The Crimson prevailed in the last meeting by 34, but the previous five were decided by six points or fewer.

“It always comes down to the last possession,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “I think coach (Tommy) Amaker is a terrific coach. His teams play extremely physical, they play really hard and it’s a great game for us.”

UMass will face three of the other five Division I programs in Massachusetts this season. The Minutemen defeated Lowell already and play at Northeastern on Dec. 7.

They last played Holy Cross in 2018. Boston College hasn’t been on the schedule since 2014.

“When I came here, I wanted to sort of like put the school on the country’s notice,” Fernandes said. “In the state it definitely matters, but I feel like every game we just we approach it the same way. We got to go get it.”

BACK THE U – Fernandes and some of his teammates attended Wednesday’s UMass women’s basketball win over Fairfield. Both programs have been regular guests at each other’s contests, offering support and encouragement.

“They’re super talented. It sucks coming in here (the Mullins Center) and not seeing people in here to watch them and see how good they’re actually doing,” Fernandes said. “I just think that’s cool how they carry themselves around the building and all that off the court. I just respect it. So whenever I can come and support, I’ll always support.”

WAKEY WAKEY – The game against Harvard will tip at noon Saturday, the earliest start to a game this season. UMass has four noon tipoffs. Part of the reason for the early open is the UMass hockey team plays UMass Lowell at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, as well.

“It’s not too early, but for us hoopers it’s early,” Fernandes said. “It’s definitely gonna be different, but you just need to get on the court in the morning and stuff after you wake up or maybe get a little run in, just getting your body ready at that time.”

THE POWER OF THE MUSTACHE – McCall met new UMass football coach Don Brown at a head coaches meeting Wednesday then saw him again out to dinner at Savannas Bar and Bistro on University Ave. in Amherst and had an opportunity to chat for a while.

“When you got people that have already put their heart and soul into this place and being here, that's what you need,” McCall said. “It seems like he couldn’t be happier to be back, and that’s awesome. Happy for him, happy the administration and hope he gets the program going in the direction that everybody wants it to.”

INJURY UPDATE – Fernandes said his leg is “85 percent” after missing the win over Lowell and returning against Rutgers. He originally injured it against Ball State in the Jersey Mike’s Classic.

“When I’m out their on the court I don’t really feel it once adrenaline starts going,” he said. “Before the game it hurts and after practice it hurts. While I’m playing I don’t feel it. I would say 100, but I do need to get some more treatment.”

Cairo McCrory has also been dealing with a back injury since the summer that has kept him out of games.

GOING BACK TO BACK – UMass won consecutive games for the first time this season beating Lowell and Rutgers at home. The Minutemen had alternated wins and losses for the first seven contests.

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