Michael Steadman helps UMass sneak past Fairfield in OT

  • UMass’ Michael Steadman (24) rises up for a shot during the Minutemen’s 77-73 overtime win against Fairfield on Sunday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass’ Javohn Garcia (1) goes to the basket during the Minutemen’s 77-73 overtime win against Fairfield on Sunday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/19/2021 5:46:12 PM
Modified: 12/19/2021 5:45:58 PM

AMHERST – After such an intense, back-and-forth contest, the penultimate play felt almost anti-climatic.

With the UMass men’s basketball team up by three with 10 seconds left in overtime and a Fairfield possession, the Stags went to set up a play – and promptly stepped out of bounds with nine seconds remaining, giving the Minutemen the final possession they needed to secure the game. 

Michael Steadman’s explosive play in the second half and a late clutch performance in the waning minutes of regulation by  C.J. Kelly earned the Minutemen a hard-fought 77-73 overtime victory over Fairfield on Sunday afternoon at the Mullins Center.

Neither Fairfield or UMass wanted the other to walk away with a win, and they didn’t make it easy in a back-and-forth contest. Steadman was a key player in the Minutemen’s win, posting 20 points, 16 of those coming in the second half and overtime, and C.J. Kelly put the home team on his back in the final three and a half minutes, going on a five-point solo scoring run to single-handedly force overtime. From there, the Minutemen were able to find their offensive groove again, outscoring the Stags 12-8 to secure the win.

UMass (7-5) won despite missing the services of Noah Fernandes and TJ Weeks Jr., who were unavailable in this one.

“The flu has been running through us, and that started back in Dallas [against North Texas], to be honest with you. We’ve had some guys it's taken down, and we had limited numbers and limited bodies in practice. But the guys that were out there prepared, they got better,” UMass head coach Matt McCall said. “We made some tweaks and some changes to our defense that needed to happen to allow us to be more aggressive, and they got better. I think that's why the result was what it was.” 

The momentum changes were swift and frequent; neither team secured more than a five-point lead at any point in the contest. Fairfield (8-4) came out hard at the start of the game, securing a 7-2 lead in the first four minutes while the Minutemen found their footing. UMass clawed its way back into the contest slowly but surely, retaking the lead eight minutes into the first half courtesy of a Greg Jones’ triple that brought the Mullins Center crowd to their feet. Then it was the Stags’ turn to play catchup, but couldn’t do enough to secure a lead before the end of the first half. 

The Minutemen held a slim one-point heading into halftime, but it was a rough road getting there. UMass struggled from deep in the field, going 2-for-11 behind the arc. 

“I thought in the first half we were over-handling. We were coming off pick and rolls and trying to probe and do some things that caused us to have some costly turnovers,” McCall said. “We had eight assists in the second half, so we were much better moving it and sharing it, and getting to the foul line. And obviously Steady posting up down there was huge for us.”

Those first half struggles ended up being a blessing in disguise for the Minutemen, who were able to rely on the dynamic duo of Steadman and Jones in the paint to overwhelm the Stags in the second half. It’s a testament to the team's versatility that they were able to implement a different kind of offensive strategy when their initial game plan fell flat. 

“I think it just shows how dynamic our offense could be. We don't want to just be a three-point relying team, we want to be able to play inside and out,” McCall said. “We miss a couple guys who produce from the three-point line, but also Rich [Kelly] is very good shooter. He didn’t shoot a lot of threes today, but he got to the basket, created opportunities for other guys and also finished around the rim, so it was good to see that.”

Rich Kelly finished the game with 12 points and two assists, but it was the Minutemen’s other Kelly, C.J., who got the team to overtime. With both teams trading buckets down the stretch, Fairfield went on a 7-0 run punctuated by a dunk by Supreme Cook with 4:34 remaining to take the lead back, and with 1:44 left in the half, the visitors had a five-point lead over UMass. C.J. Kelly scored an and-one pull the team within two, and then sank a layup with 12 seconds left to force OT. 

From there, the Minutemen’s offense took care of business. Rich Kelly opened the extra frame with an emphatic triple and finished OT with six points. Steadman threw up a layup and hit two free throws, and Javohn Garcia continued his strong play with a layup while ultimately tossing in 13 total points. 

Rich Kelly said postgame that UMass doesn’t have to worry about its offense – it’s clear they have the skill needed to put the ball in the basket. What they’ll work on for their next game and heading into the holiday break is nailing down their defensive structure. 

“I think definitely defense, that's something that we've kind of been harping on. We have a lot of talented offensive guys. (With) Steady, I don't think anyone's really seen his full potential yet, (and) you have a guy like Javohn who, all of a sudden he (can) burst out for great games when given the opportunity. So we really have a lot of guys who can put the ball in the basket,” Kelly said. “I think that just shows that we don't need to worry about that as much. We got to worry about getting stops.”

UMass returns to action Wednesday with a rare home midweek matinee against NJIT at 1 p.m.

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