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.
- 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.
“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.