Dayton closes out UMass men’s basketball in A-10 semifinals

  • Matt McCall coached his final game for the UMass men’s basketball program Friday against Dayton in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals. He was informed 10 days ago that he woulnd’t be returning next year but decided to finish out the season. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass guard T.J. Weeks Jr. dribbles up the floor against Dayton on Friday during the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass guard Rich Kelly drives toward teh basket against Dayton on Friday during the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass’ Noah Fernandes, left, and T.J. Weeks Jr. at the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals Friday in Washington D.C. The Minutemen fell 75-72 against Dayton. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass guard Noah Fernandes scored 26 points, but the Minutemen fell to Dayton in Friday’s Atlantic 10 quarterfinals at Captial One Arena in Washington, D.C. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass guard Noah Fernandes scored 26 points, but the Minutemen fell to Dayton in Friday’s Atlantic 10 quarterfinals at Captial One Arena in Washington, D.C. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/11/2022 10:11:57 PM

Noah Fernandes’ buzzer-beating heave landed a few feet shy, ending the UMass men’s basketball season.

The 10th-seeded Minutemen gave No. 2 Dayton everything the Flyers could handle in Friday’s Atlantic 10 quarterfinals, but Dayton closed stronger in a 75-72 victory. The Flyers will face either No. 3 VCU or No. 6 Richmond on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. They played the late game Thursday.

“What a game. What unbelievable fight by our guys,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “We definitely had our chances.”

UMass (15-17) led 68-65 with 1:58 left after a Javohn Garcia free throw and a Koby Brea miss for Dayton.

Noah Fernandes dribbled the ball just inside half court with 1:29 remaining, but Malachi Smith snatched it away and raced up the court. Trent Buttrick fouled him defending the layup attempt with 1:26 left. It was his fifth foul after playing a cautious second half. He finished with seven points and six rebounds.

Smith sank both free throws to bring the Flyers within 2. Fernandes missed a stepback the next time down, and Daron Homes II gave Dayton the lead for good 69-68 with a turnaround jumper with 51 seconds on the clock. He finished with a game-high 28 points on 12-0f-15 shooting. 

But the Minutemen kept chasing. 

UMass guard C.J. Kelly missed a pull-up 3 with a hand in his face with 29 seconds to go. He was 0-for-2 in the game, playing 17 minutes. Fernandes needed to commit a foul to extend the game.

Smith pushed Dayton’s lead to three with two free throws three seconds later. 

That gave Fernandes, who scored 26 points, four rebounds and four assists, a chance to tie the game. He weaved through traffic and drew contact shooting a 3, or so he thought. The referees called the foul on the floor, giving him two free throws instead of three. Fernandes made both with 15 seconds left to bring the score to 71-70.

UMass committed a necessary foul with 12 seconds remaining to send Brea, one of Dayton’s poorest free throw shooters, to the line. He made the first one but missed the second, giving UMass a chance down 72-20.

But Brea ripped that opportunity away by grabbing his own miss. He then went 2-of-2 at the line with nine seconds remaining to stretch Dayton’s lead to four.

Rich Kelly drove to the basket and finished a quick layup for UMass with three seconds remaining that shaved the deficit back down to two. 

Smith went 1-of-2 at the line after UMass fouled to extend the game once again, and the Minutemen put the ball in Fernandes’ hands like it had all night for the last shot that fell short.

“It’s hard to not coach Noah Fernandes, the relationship I have with him, but I’m a fan now,” McCall said.

The loss officially ended Matt McCall’s five-year as UMass’ head coach. He was informed he wouldn’t return for the final season of his contract 10 days ago but decided to stay and finish out the season. UMass won three games in a row to keep his tenure alive and reach its second straight conference tournament quarterfinal.

“The hardest part about this is the relationships. That’s what makes this emotional, that’s what makes it difficult. There’s great people. I’m grateful for the opportunity (UMass athletic director) Ryan Bamford gave me,” McCall said. “I don’t walk away from UMass bitter. I don’t walk away from UMass angry and upset. I want the best for them going forward.”

Fernandes gave UMass its latest lead on a step back jumper he hit many of with 2:45 left, 67-65.

Greg Jones (seven points, four rebounds) sank two free throws to tie the game at 65 with 3:20 left.

Dayton went ahead 59-57 after Brea dropped in a layup after a spin move in the paint with 7:28 to go. That lead extended to 61-57 after two R.J. Blakney free throws, part of a 7-0 Flyers run.

Fernandes broke it with a running floater at 6:34 to pull back within one possession. Garcia tied it again 45 seconds later with a bank shot.

TJ Weeks left the game with 15:23 left after dropping to the floor clutching his left knee. His teammates walked him off the floor as far as his coaching staff so they could help him to the bench.

UMass trailed 43-42 at the time but ripped off six points in a row from consecutive 3s by Fernandes and Buttrick.

Buttrick accrued his third foul just 13 seconds into the second half after committing two in under four minutes in the first, but McCall left him in the game. He scored seven points in the next eight minutes until a charge gave him No. 4 with 11:46 left.

“He said yesterday it was his last tournament, his last opportunity to play that was guaranteed for him,” Fernandes said. “You could see he was leaving it all out on the floor.”

Weeks returned from the locker room with 9:30 left and finished with 10 points and six rebounds.

UMass led 50-47 at the time, but Blakney tied it with a 3 just 14 seconds later.

Dayton led for the first time in the second half 41-40 after a blazing quick Kobe Elvis layup 3:07 into the second half. It was the Flyers’ first lead since 9-8.

UMass led by double digits in the first half after Garcia drilled a tough 3 in front of Dayton’s bench to put the Minutemen up 36-26 with 2:27 to halftime. He turned and barked at the Flyers and received a technical.

Dayton’s Smith (15 points) made the free throw, and it sparked an 8-0 run in 1:38 to shave the lead to just two. The Flyers had a look at a lead with five seconds left, but Mustapha Azmil missed the 3 to send the game to halftime with UMass ahead.

Daron Holmes II dominated the first half for Dayton, scoring 16 points on 6-of-8 field goals. He also put two UMass bigs in foul trouble trying to guard him. Buttrick picked up his second just 3:43 in, and McCall went to Michael Steadman.

Steadman lasted 6:43 until he went to the bench with two fouls. UMass transitioned to a smaller lineup for the remaining 9:34. The Minutemen held the Flyers at arm’s length until that closing run narrowed the gap for the second half.

“I’m tired. I’m excited for what’s next. I’m indebted to the University of Massachusetts for the opportunity they provided to a former student manager that worked his way up to an Atlantic 10 coach,” Mccall said. “This isn’t it for me. I’ll be back.”

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


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