RICHMOND — Two teams with similar styles of play – full-court pressure defenses and run-and-gun offenses – met Thursday night, and for one half, it was entertaining college basketball from both schools.
The second half, however, belonged to Virginia Commonwealth University, and that wasn’t good news for the University of Massachusetts in an important Atlantic 10 Conference game at the sold-out Siegel Center.
After leading by 5 at intermission, UMass was outscored, 21-1, in the first 6:12 of the second half and never recovered in an 86-68 loss.
“We tried to impose our style on them,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg, “and I thought their style was imposed on us, more than we were able to go after them.”
VCU (20-5, 8-2) took sole possession of first place in the A-10, while the Minutemen (16-7, 6-4) fell into a sixth-place tie.
It was by far the Minutemen’s worst loss to an A-10 team this season.
“Obviously, because of the score, I thought they were the best team we’ve played in the league thus far,” said Kellogg. “They took it to us tonight. I’ve watched them on tape, and I like what they do. I like how they play.
“They’re explosive. They can go on runs and when you run with them, you expose yourself to them.”
This one began to spiral out of control for the Minutemen when they had trouble getting the ball across midcourt to start the second half. After the Rams had scored the first 8 points to take a 45-42 lead, UMass finally got a point.
Chaz Williams made 1 of 2 free throws at the 17:57 mark and that was the only point the Minutemen managed in the first 6½ minutes of the half. By the time Cady Lalanne got free for a dunk at 13:37, the Rams were firmly in control at 58-45.
“I felt like they were able to get some easy breakout baskets early, and that gave them some confidence,” said Kellogg. “That allowed them to get into their press faster, and when that happened, we couldn’t get [the ball] in quite as quick and beat [the press].”
After taking reasonably good care of the ball in the first half, the Minutemen had all kinds of trouble with VCU’s harassing all-court pressure and trapping defenses.
“I thought their depth played a factor,” said Kellogg. “We didn’t have our third and fourth ball-handlers and that made a difference.”
During VCU’s opening second-half salvo, UMass had seven turnovers and missed all five of their shots.
“I don’t think we did anything different,” said VCU guard Rob Brandenberg, who had all 12 of his points in the second half. “We just focused hard on getting stops, playing hard defensively, and on the offensive end, continue to attack.”
The Minutemen finished with a season-high 24 turnovers and the Rams turned them into 28 points. VCU’s biggest lead was 27 points (81-54) before UMass made it more respectable by outscoring the Rams, 14-5, in the final 5½ minutes.
“We just let them come out with a great start to the second half, and I guess that put them on a little run, and they didn’t look back from there,” said Williams. “I take full blame for [some of the turnovers], basically being lazy and not going for the ball.’’