Myrtle Beach Invitational: UMass basketball suffocates Charlotte to win first tournament since 2013

  • UMass raises the championship trophy after defeating Charlotte 60-54 on Sunday to win the Myrtle Beach Invitational championship in Conway, S.C. PHOTO BY LARA ZUK

  • UMass’ Brandon Martin and Noah Fernandes chest bump at half court after after the Minutemen defeated Charlotte 60-54 on Sunday to win the Myrtle Beach Invitational championship in Conway, S.C. PHOTO BY LARA ZUK

  • UMass guard Noah Fernandes raises the MVP trophy after the Minutemen defeated Charlotte 60-54 on Sunday to win the Myrtle Beach Invitational championship in Conway, S.C. PHOTO BY LARA ZUK

Staff Writer
Published: 11/20/2022 6:16:07 PM
Modified: 11/20/2022 6:15:58 PM

Charlotte couldn’t escape the chokehold the UMass men’s basketball team clinched during the Myrtle Beach Invitational championship game.

The Minutemen pulled ahead with an early run then suffocated the 49ers in a 60-54 victory Sunday on the campus of Coastal Carolina in Conway, S.C. They led for 38 minutes, 18 seconds of the 40-minute game.

“I’ve been pushing them really hard because we need to learn how to win, and winning is not a simple formula, it’s a complicated formula, it’s really demanding,” UMass coach Frank Martin said. “For us to come here and beat these three really good teams, says a lot about our kids.” 

Charlotte’s Igor Milicic hit a layup 1:19 in that gave the 49ers their only, brief advantage. UMass’ T.J. Weeks Jr. responded with a 3 just 20 seconds later. It sparked a 12-0 run, as UMass held Charlotte off the board for 4:16 and built a double-digit lead.

“We created a little bit of our identity this week, especially on the defensive end and rebounding the ball. We hadn’t really jumped on anybody yet this year,” UMass guard Noah Fernandes said. “It was crazy. We finally jumped on somebody and had them on their heels a little bit. I think that shaped the game.”

The 49ers (4-1) never pulled within a single possession again. They got as close as four when Montre Gipson sank a layup with 47 seconds remaining to make it 58-54 UMass. Charlotte fouled Fernandes, shooting 59.1 percent from the free throw line this season but 77.7 percent for his career, and he sank two to seal the title. The tournament MVP scored nine points to go along with two points and two rebounds.

“He’s a winner, man,” Martin said. “I saw Noah a lot in high school and I was amazed at how he controlled games he played in. Now that I’m coaching him, I understand why he’s so good.”

Matt Cross led the Minutemen with 12 points, hitting 5-of-7 from the field and 2-of-3 3s, including a deep, contested triple at the halftime buzzer that sent UMass to the locker room up 38-28.

Charlotte outscored the Minutemen 26-22 after halftime but couldn’t string together enough stops and scores to threaten UMass’ lead. 

“I was concerned at halftime and the reason why I was concerned was because I thought our defense was good, but our offense was relying on us making some bombs. I’ve coached long enough and those things don’t continue to go, and we were not getting paint touches, we weren’t getting baskets at the rim,” Martin said. “If those bombs ever stopped, I was worried our offense would struggle. I knew it would dry up, and it did. Our physicality, our attention to detail and rebounding was really good.”

Weeks Jr. nearly posted a double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds.

Freshman Keon Thompson dished four assists to pace the Minutemen, who had 17. They shot 45.1 percent as a team, 53.8 percent from 3, and hit 7-of-8 free throws after an abysmal tournament from the stripe beforehand.

“Finally I think we got the hang of playing with each other and the feel for the game with each other,” Cross said. “It’s coming along now.”

It was UMass’ first in-season tournament victory since the 2013 Charleston Classic. The Minutemen (4-1) are off to their best start since 2019, when they opened the season 5-0.

Charlotte tied its season low with 54 points and shot just 36.7 percent from the field (23.8 percent from 3). UMass out rebounded the 49ers 35-25 and had 26 defensive rebounds.

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