Led by Tafara Gapare’s 15 points, the UMass bench outscores the starters in an 87-73 win for the Minutemen.

The Minutemen recorded 34 first half points while shooting 68% from the field and never looked back in the win Monday night.

Out of the six Minutemen who finished in double figures in the scoring column, four came off of the bench in the 87-73 victory over the Albany Great Danes on Monday night. Three of those four players are newcomers to UMass this season, headlined by freshman Tapara Gapare who shined in his first true minutes at the Mullins Center this season. Leading the way for Albany was guard Gerald Drumgoole, finishing with 20 points and six 3-pointers.

Noah Fernandes has been the UMass point guard since the start of the 2020 season. The Minutemen (7-1) were left without him for the first time since January 30 of this year. Guard Rahsool Diggins started in place of Fernandes, but ran into foul trouble, only playing nine minutes total.

This made room for freshman guard Keon Thompson to prove he was capable of handling the offense in the absence of the experienced Fernandes. Thompson scored 13 points and notched four assists, while playing a career-high 31 minutes. It was the first time Thompson made his way into the scoring column since Nov. 17 against Colorado.

Thompson was not the only freshman to step up when called upon. Gapare electrified the Mullins Center crowd over and over again against the Great Danes (3-7). The freshman native of New Zealand scored a career high 15 points, throwing down three huge dunks in the process. Gapare also showed potential on the defensive end as well, recording five steals and blocking a shot.

After falling behind 7-2 in the opening minutes the Minutemen dominated the rest of the first half, going on a 44-14 run. The Great Danes’ defense featured a zone scheme that left the free throw line wide open, which was a source of many UMass baskets in the half. The Minutemen only shot four 3-pointers in the half, and scored 34 points in the paint.

Head coach Frank Martin’s bunch found success through forward Isaac Kante’s size in the key, who finished the game with 14 points and didn’t miss a field goal or free throw attempt. Despite their early offensive success, the Minutemen came out of the gate shooting 0-5 from the free-throw line. They went into the locker room 3 for 9 from the stripe but responded in the second half by shooting 15 for 17. Free throw shooting has been an ongoing struggle for the Minutemen this year. 

After falling behind big in the first half, the Great Danes kept fighting in the second to keep the Minutemen within striking distance. Albany was led by their leading scorer on the season, Drumgoole. The 6-foot-5-inch guard lived on the perimeter for the majority of the night, finishing 6-13 from beyond the arc. He finished with 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists as the offense ran through him.

After the win, Martin was clear that he believes his team is capable of more. “We got no enthusiasm for what we do, we got no discipline for what we do, and it’s gotta get fixed,” said Martin after the game.

The strength of the Minutemen this year has been their defense, and tonight was the first time the team has allowed 70 points in a game this year. UMass has just two days of rest before their next game when in-state rival UMass-Lowell (9-1) visits the Mullins Center on Thursday Night. The River Hawks are off to a very hot start to begin the season and have been led by their prolific offense. Something will have to give on Thursday at 7 p.m..

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