CONWAY, S.C. (Nov. 20, 2022) – A 40-minute game might have been decided in the first five, as UMass jumped out to a 12-2 start and maintained more than a one-possession lead the rest of the way in defeating Charlotte 60-54 for the championship of the Myrtle Beach Invitational.
After Charlotte scored the game’s first two points, the Minutemen responded by making eight consecutive shots. UMass built a 23-10 lead by the midpoint of the first half, forcing the 49ers to play catchup the rest of the way.
“I’m proud of the effort that we put forward for the last 35 minutes of this game. The first five, we didn’t come out with the right approach,” Charlotte coach Ron Sanchez said. “It’s the first time this season we didn’t come out with the right edge that we needed to, and we spotted them 10 points. We gave them a lot of confidence in their offense.”
Indeed, the Minutemen (4-1) connected on 60 percent of their shots in the first half (15-of-25), including going 5-for-6 from 3-point range. And it was a true team effort, with seven different players scoring at least one basket in the half, led by forward Matt Cross with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting.
“Once you jump out early, you can just run your plays,” Cross said. “While their players are trying to push it and play catchup, we were playing relaxed.”
Of course, fiery UMass coach Frank Martin wasn’t satisfied at halftime, despite the Minutemen holding a 38-28 lead. He said his team was relying too much on long 3-pointers rather than working the ball for inside baskets.
“I was concerned, because even though our defense had been really good, our offense relied on us making some bombs,” Martin said. “I’ve coached long enough, and those things don’t continue to go in. We were not getting paint touches and baskets at the rim. And if those bombs ever stopped, I was worried that our scoring would struggle.”
Charlotte (4-1) managed to close the gap to 42-37 with still 12 minutes left in the game. But a 3-pointer by tournament MVP Noah Fernandes and a layup by Cross quickly pushed the lead back up to 47-37, and the 49ers never could get closer than six points until there was less than a minute remaining. Fernandes then sealed the win with a pair of free throws for the final margin.
The tournament title marked an important early milestone for the Minutemen under Martin, who took over as the head coach this year after spending the previous 10 seasons at South Carolina.
“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,” Martin said. “For us to come here and beat three really good teams says a lot about our kids.”