The UMass Minutemen entered the second A-10 semifinal with a chance to make a strong case for an NCAA tournament bid. Entering this game with a 21-10 overall record, and wins in five of their past six games, a UMass win over VCU might be enough to attract the attention of the selection committee. Junior point guard Chaz Williams had led them to victories over George Washington and Temple in the two preceding days - could he carry them to victory one more time?
Game #9-527: Massachusetts Minutemen vs. Virginia Commonwealth RamsMarch 16, 2013 4:00 pm
VCU entered the contest virtually assured of a berth in the NCAA tournament, but neither the team nor its enthusiastic fan base had come to Brooklyn looking for anything short of a conference tournament championship. The Rams were nearing the end of its first season in the Atlantic 10, but they would not be willing to take the fall in order for a league counterpart to strengthen its resume.
Led by Williams, UMass attacked VCU's Havoc defense, getting easy layups in the first few minutes, including four quick scores by center Cady Lalanne. After UMass forward Raphiael Putney scored on a long three-pointer, which gave UMass an early 16-8 lead, VCU coach Shaka Smart took a quick timeout to get his team settled.
A three-pointer from Troy Daniels would bring VCU back to within five, but back-to-back running jumpers from Sampson Carter and Williams stretched the lead back to nine, at 20-11. VCU was struggling, and UMass was having little difficulty against either the Havoc or the fast pace that VCU was trying to dictate.
After another timeout, Coach Smart countered with his best defensive backcourt, potentially sacrificing offense for defense by playing all A-10 Defensive team standouts Darius Theus and Briante Weber together. Weber was assigned the primary focus to guard Williams, and he did a good job of never letting the UMass star out of his sight. This substitution slowed down the scoring on both sides, and six minutes later the UMass lead was still 23-15.
Troy Daniels re-entered the game near the end of this offensive lull, and took control of the game. On three consecutive possessions, Daniels got free from behind the arc, knocking down a superhoop each time. When Melvin Johnson then stripped the ball away from Williams, and then passed it ahead to Weber for a breakaway dunk, VCU had completed an 11-0 run in just over a minute and a half. Many teams have played VCU even for almost an entire contest, but lose to them because of one brief spurt just like this one. 11-0 runs against good teams are hard to overcome, and UMass had just dug themselves a hole.
To their credit, the Minutemen would keep fighting. After going more than eight minutes with just three points added to the scoreboard, a productive timeout from Coach Derek Kellogg resulted in baskets on three straight possessions, putting UMass back in the lead. Theus and Weber would close the half on a mini-run for VCU, with a three-pointer from Theus helping the Rams hold a 35-34 lead at the halftime break. Just like the Butler-Saint Louis game that preceded it, this semifinal matchup saw the underdog play extremely well over the large majority of the half, but had a short period in which it was dominated, causing it to trail the favorite after twenty minutes of play.
Williams opened the second half with a jump shot to put UMass back in the lead, but that was quickly offset by VCU's Daniels, who connected on his fifth three-pointer of the game. That shot ignited a quick 7-0 run for the Rams, and the UMass offense was struggling again. The Minutemen would go nearly five minutes without a point, but the Rams went cold as well, and the scoreboard was stuck at 42-36 for over three minutes.
Williams would finally break the drought for UMass, but his efforts were nearly offset by Juvonte Reddic from VCU. A thunderous dunk by Reddic with 8:30 to go gave VCU a 56-48 advantage, and I questioned whether UMass would be able to respond.
But respond they would - led this time by freshman guard Trey Davis. Davis made a three-pointer, then after a miss by VCU's Rob Brandenberg, Davis attempted another three-pointer that missed, but he drew a foul on Melvin Johnson in the process. With a chance to cut the lead to two and immediately take back the momentum, Davis stepped to the line and bricked the first two of his free tosses. He made the third to cut lead back down to four, but you could really sense a missed opportunity there.
UMass would continue to battle though, and had a chance to tie the game with about four and a half minutes to play. Lalanne had a fairly clear path to the basket for a tying layup, but his shot bounced off and the ball got knocked away to VCU's Briante Weber. Weber raced down the court and attacked the basket, with UMass' Sampson Carter hustling to get into position to take the charge. Weber ran into Carter, and banked the ball into the basket. The whistle blew, and all eyes focused on the referee for the critical call...
Blocking foul on Carter; basket good by Weber.
The block/charge call can be the most difficult thing to judge in all sports; I think that was the right call in this instance, but it was very close, and the ramifications of the call were significant. Weber made the resulting free throw, and then stole the ball from Freddie Riley after the inbound pass. He then immediately passed the ball to Daniels, who hit his sixth three-pointer of the game . Within fifteen seconds of Lalanne's attempted layup to tie the game, VCU had taken an eight-point lead.
Remarkably, UMass would battle back once more. They cut the lead to four with just under two minutes play, and VCU had the ball with the shot clock ticking down and nothing working on their offensive end. With the shot clock down to 2, Brandenberg lofted a shot from deep in the left corner, and the ball rippled through the net just as the shot clock buzzer sounded. UMass had finally absorbed the body blow from which it could not recover.
With just seconds remaining, Lalanne fouled out of the game. At that moment, the UMass team showed the frustration and fatigue of continually battling to come back, but just not quite being able to get to the top of the mountain. I came to Brooklyn with little familiarity of the UMass Minutemen, but really enjoyed watching them compete. Among all of the teams that came here, they may have had the most to prove; sadly, the mountain was just a bit too high for them to scale.
VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH 71, MASSACHUSETTS 62
MASSACHUSETTS 21-11 (9-7) -- C. Williams 7-12 4-5 18; F. Riley 1-4 0-1 3; S. Carter 1-7 6-6 8; C. Lalanne 6-9 2-3 14; T. Vinson 1-7 0-0 2; M. Esho 1-5 4-6 6; R. Putney 1-5 0-0 3; T. Davis 1-3 3-5 6; T. Bergantino 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 20-53 19-26 62.
VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH 26-7 (12-4) -- J. Reddic 5-15 8-10 18; D. Theus 3-7 3-3 10; T. Graham 1-12 1-3 3; R. Brandenberg 3-9 0-2 7; T. Daniels 7-10 0-0 20; B. Weber 5-8 1-1 11; M. Johnson 1-6 0-0 2; J. Guest 0-0 0-0 0; J. Tuoyo 0-2 0-0 0; T. Okereafor 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-70 13-19 71.
Three-point goals: MASS 3-11 (S. Carter 0-2; R. Putney 1-2; F. Riley 1-2; T. Vinson 0-2; C. Williams 0-2; T. Davis 1-1), VCU 8-21 (T. Daniels 6-9; D. Theus 1-1; R. Brandenberg 1-3; B. Weber 0-1; T. Graham 0-5; M. Johnson 0-2); Rebounds: MASS 46 (S. Carter 12), VCU 33 (J. Reddic 12); Assists: MASS 6 (C. Williams 4), VCU 13 (D. Theus 6); Total Fouls -- MASS 19, VCU 22; Fouled Out: MASS-T. Vinson; VCU-None.
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