TROY DANIELS FORTIFIES LEGACY, SENDS RAMS TO A-10 TITLE GAME

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Senior Troy Daniels knocked down 6-of-9 threes Saturday and finished with 20 points.

Senior Troy Daniels knocked down 6-of-9 threes Saturday and finished with 20 points.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Shaka Smart tried to warn us. Troy Daniels is a stone-cold gunner from beyond the 3-point arc.

Those aren’t Smart’s actual words. He said something more like, “Troy Daniels is the best shooter I’ve ever coached,” many, many times during the senior’s career. But I like my version better. Because on Saturday, Daniels answered the call for the Rams in one of, if not the biggest spots in his career, so I used more interesting adjectives.

Behind the Roanoke senior’s 20 points – most importantly his 6-of-9 three-point shooting – VCU withstood UMass and secured a 71-62 win in the Atlantic 10 Tournament semifinals Saturday night at Barclays Center.

The victory sends VCU, playing in its inaugural season in the A-10, to a Championship Game match-up with 16th-ranked Saint Louis on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Daniels’ lights-out shooting was the kind of performance that showed everybody why Smart was comfortable placing such a strong label on his senior during his career.

“He’s just a great shooter,” Smart said of Daniels, who has hit 240 career 3-pointers. “He’s the best shooter I’ve ever coached. He’s always been terrific in practice, but his first couple of years he had a hard time playing with the confidence to go out and shoot the ball in. Today he did, and all year he has and that’s why he’s one of the top single-season 3-point shooter in Atlantic 10 history.

“We need him to make threes because that’s a big part of what we do. I think it fits in well with our style of play and our guys do a nice job of finding him.”

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VCU-UMASS HALFTIME UPDATE

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HALFTIME SCORE: VCU 35, UMass 34

Spike Lee returned to courtside for Saturday’s game. He ditched his lime green sweatshirt and wore a gold VCU Rams t-shirt.

Rafael Putney two big blocked shots, one that leads to a three in transition to make it 16-8 UMass.

Cady Lalanne opened the game 4-of-4 from the field for the Minutemen as UMass took a 20-11 lead in the first 10 minutes. However, Lalanne picked up his second foul with 6:21 left in the half.

However, VCU staged a furious comeback behind its defense and long-range shooting. After scoring 15 points in the first 15 minutes, the Rams staged an 11-0 run over the next three minutes. Troy Daniels his three straight 3-pointers to start the run and Briante Weber punctuated the blitz with a steal and tomahawk dunk.

Daniels hit 4-of-5 from deep and scored 12 points to lead the Rams in the first. Weber knocked down 4-of-6 shots and had eight points. Much like Friday, Darius Theus started slow, then scored 10 points as the half drew on.

Lalanne led UMass with 10 points in the first. UMass turned the ball over nine times in the first half, VCU just four.

VCU shot .371 (13-of-35) in the first, including 5-of-11 from three. UMass shot .462 (12-of-26).

THIS IS JUST THE BEST THING EVER

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VCU-UMASS PREGAME NOTES

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Brooklyn native Chaz Williams is averaging 22.0 points and 6.5 assists in two A-10 Tournament games.

Brooklyn native Chaz Williams is averaging 22.0 points and 6.5 assists in two A-10 Tournament games.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Nearly a month ago today, to the day, VCU and UMass played a basketball game that nearly set the Siegel Center floor on fire.

The game, won by VCU 86-68 (box score), matched the two highest scoring teams in the Atlantic 10 and practically begged them to play at terminal velocity. They were all but too happy to comply. For a half, UMass matched VCU’s energy and stood tall against the Rams’ Havoc defense.

Then VCU blew UMass’ doors off.

The Minutemen led 42-37 at halftime, but within minutes of the second period, the outcome was clear. VCU scored the first eight points of the second half and eventually ripped off a 21-1 blitz behind a swarming full court press. By the 13:49 mark, the Rams had taken a five-point deficit and turned it into a 58-43 lead. Game over.

Saturday, they’ll meet again in the Atlantic 10 semifinals at Barclays Center. The sixth-seeded Minutemen topped George Washington Thursday before upsetting third-seeded Temple Friday night 79-74 to reach the league’s final four.

UMass (21-10) will be playing its third game in three days. Minutemen star and Brooklyn native Chaz Williams has played 38 and 40 minutes the last two games. Meanwhile, the Rams are coming off an 82-79 win over Saint Joseph’s in which no player exceeded 29 minutes. Given the pace at which both teams play, it’ll be interesting to see if UMass will have the legs for another track meet.

Williams, generously listed at 5-foot-9, has been simply brilliant in the tournament so far. He’s averaging 22.0 points and 6.5 assists in two games at Barclays. But on Feb. 14 in Richmond, the Rams forced Williams into a 1-of-7 shooting night and held him to six points. He also turned the ball over six times. In all, VCU forced 24 turnovers that night and scored 28 points of those errors.

The Rams will push the pace once again Saturday, and there’s no reason to think the Minutemen won’t want to do the same. A tiger isn’t going to change its stripes this late in the season. Williams wore down in the last meeting under VCU’s constant pressure and had difficulty with the Rams’ long, athletic guards.

Treveon Graham led the Rams on Feb. 14 with 19 points, while Melvin Johnson added 18.

OF NOTE

  • UMass 6-8 senior forward Terrell Vinson is averaging 14.5 points in two tournament games.
  • The Minutemen are long at every position, other than point guard, where the diminutive Williams is entrenched. That length did give VCU trouble in the first game, as UMass blocked 10 shots, including five by 6-10 center Cady Lalanne and four by 6-9 Raphiael Putney.
  • UMass turned the ball over 19 times Friday night against Temple.
  • The Minutemen average 13.8 turnovers per game, which ranks 11th in the A-10. UMass is 166th nationally in offensive turnover percentage.
  • UMass ranks 19th in the country in adjusted tempo. VCU is 64th. Buckle your seat belt.

QUOTABLE
“I heard the fans. I think it’s going to be a battle, who can have the most fans here tomorrow.” – UMass Coach Derek Kellogg.

VIDEO: VCU DOWNS UMASS 86-68

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IT WAS OVER IN A MINUTE, MAN

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Junior Rob Brandenberg shook off a rough first half to lead VCU's remarkable second-half run Thursday.

Junior Rob Brandenberg shook off a rough first half to lead VCU’s remarkable second-half run Thursday.

RICHMOND, Va. – Whatever Shaka Smart said or did at halftime of Thursday’s game, he should remember it and then repeat it every day for the rest of the season. I don’t care if he built his team up, tore it down, broke a whiteboard or played “Fire on the Mountain” on the banjo, he needs to bottle it, because if VCU can play better than the first 14 minutes of the second half of Thursday’s 86-68 blitzing of UMass, I’d like to see it.

VCU, trailing 42-37 at intermission, embarked on a 21-1 run at the start of the second half and turned a tight game into a chance for fans to beat the traffic. At one point, VCU pushed its run to 44-12 and assumed an 81-54 advantage before calling off the dogs with six minutes remaining.

“I think we were able to break their spirit a little bit with that run, and that was the determining factor in the game,” Smart said.

It was like watching the best possible version of the Rams for 14 unmatched minutes. The Rams (20-5, 8-2 A-10), who won a game by 51 earlier this season, actually found a sixth gear. UMass’ first 11 possessions of the second half went as follows: turnover, missed 3-pointer, turnover, missed 3-pointer, free throw, turnover, turnover, missed 3-pointer, shot blocked, turnover, turnover. By the time that hellacious six-minute stretch was over, it was 58-43. Game, VCU.

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REDDIC SLAMS THE DOOR ON UMASS

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Here’s every imaginable angle of Juvonte Reddic two-hand tip-slamming UMass into the dark night. Reddic finished with eight points, seven rebounds and one ferocious dunk.

TEMPO THURSDAY: NO MODERATO

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Chaz Williams (7.1 apg) leads the A-10's most up-tempo offense.

Chaz Williams (7.1 apg) leads the A-10’s most up-tempo offense.

RICHMOND, Va. – Parenting is an immersive culture. It seems like only yesterday you were planning your buddy’s insane-but-can’t-talk-about-it bachelor party, and then one day you wake up and find yourself half awake, unknowingly singing the “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” song in the checkout line at Target with dried Gerber’s beets on your collar.

It’s from this frame of mind that I come to you today. It’s why when I thought about VCU and UMass trying to match each other’s energy, aggression and tempo Thursday night at the Siegel Center, the “Little Einsteins” came to mind. Folks, this how I’m living these days, large and in charge.

Basically, the kids in the Little Einsteins cartoon fly around in a rocket that is fueled by beats. The faster they pat their legs – while calling out tempo words like “moderato”, “allegro” and “presto” – the faster the jet soars through the sky. If you’ve never seen it, this probably doesn’t make sense to you. Actually, it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Let’s move along, allegrissimo, because I sense I’ve crossed over into the ridiculous.

Anyway, it gave me a vision of UMass Coach Derek Kellogg patting his quads to spur on rocket point guard Chaz Williams, who averages 16.1 points, 7.1 assists and has ripped 45 steals. Behind the play of its athletic catalyst, UMass ranks 22nd in the country in adjusted tempo and second in the Atlantic 10 in scoring (72.6 ppg).

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GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER

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VCU and Butler met at the 2011 Final Four in Houston. Butler earned a 70-62 win, despite 27 points from VCU’s Jamie Skeen.

Last year, this would’ve been just another Tuesday in June at VCU Athletics HQ. Instead, the Atlantic 10 (16!) released men’s basketball home and road opponents for each school Tuesday, sending the Twitterverse into a type of frenzy normally reserved for March Madness and Kate Middleton.

In a 16-team league, VCU wasn’t going to get every team on its wish list at home. There’s only 16 games with which to see the league, eight of them on the road. How did the Rams do? In terms of Buzz Factor, pretty good.

The Rams will partner and play home and home with Richmond. That was essentially a given. After that, the only thing anybody cared about was which teams were coming to the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center, sponsored by Goody’s, McDonald’s, M&M’s and Nationwide, brought to you by Gatorade?

Here’s who will be visiting: Butler, Dayton, Fordham, George Washington, LaSalle, UMass, Richmond and Saint Joseph’s.  That’s a pretty good slate right there. Butler, Dayton, UMass and Saint Joe’s all have varying degrees of name-recognition.

This is my quickie “must-see” meter for VCU’s A-10 home dates:

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