Massachusetts men’s basketball guard Chaz Williams was watching the Ohio Valley Conference Championship Game on Saturday night when Belmont shocked Murray State in overtime. With the loss, the Racers were denied their automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament that they clinched two of the last three seasons, and it marked their first loss in the conference title game since 2000.
As Williams digested the end result, he applied it to the Minutemen’s situation in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, which starts on Thursday.
“It just shows you that anything can happen in college basketball nowadays, so you just gotta come into every game with the confidence and the swagger that you can win and will win,” Williams said.
UMass (19-10, 9-7 A-10) enters the tournament as the No. 6 seed with a first-round matchup against No. 11 seed George Washington (13-16, 7-9 A-10) Thursday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Tip-off is scheduled for 9 p.m., and can be seen on NBC Sports Network and listened to on WEEI Springfield (105.5 FM) or WMUA (91.1 FM).
GW’s poor record might cause some to overlook the Colonials and pencil the Minutemen into Friday’s quarterfinals, but UMass’ 79-76 home loss to GW back on Jan. 19 rules out any chance that it might overlook the lowly Colonials.
UMass coach Derek Kellogg said the defeat was one of its more disappointing losses of the season since it came at the Mullins Center – a place where he expects any opponent to have difficulty coming into and winning.
After scrambling their way back from a 16-point second-half hole, the Minutemen had a chance to send the game into overtime with Freddie Riley at the free throw line down three points and shooting three shots. But Riley’s first attempt didn’t fall and after making his second try, he couldn’t miss on purpose to try to set up a game-tying tip-in.
Williams was not happy with his performance in the last meeting, with his game-high 18 points coming off a 5-for-17 shooting day, combined with three turnovers.
Williams said he didn’t “play his game” in the loss and felt UMass lost the game on its own.
“It’s something we learn from and we’re just looking forward to that game Thursday night,” he said. “It’s a chance for us to finally go out there and get a win against them.”
GW creeped into the field of 12 despite losing four of its last five games. The Colonials squeaked past Dayton in overtime on Saturday after falling to La Salle, Saint Louis, Richmond and Saint Joseph’s. GW scatters production on its 13th best scoring offense in the A-10 (66.1 points per game) with Isaiah Armwood and Lasan Kromah averaging double figures.
The Minutemen will showcase their recommitment to the three-guard lineup of Trey Davis, Riley and Williams, which was very successful in UMass’ win at Rhode Island on Saturday in its regular season finale.
The three-guard lineup was a fixture of the Minutemen’s game prior to Jesse Morgan’s season-ending injury on Jan. 10, but Kellogg said he needed to gain more confidence in Davis, a freshman, running the offense in high-pressure situations before going back to that rotation.
“He’s starting to really play confident and do some good things for us, so it’s something we may take a look at,” Kellogg said of Davis. “It gives us one more scoring option and another guy that can shoot the ball on the floor.”
Davis didn’t commit a turnover against the Rams, including crunch time in the second half when he showed great poise and confidence – something he said he also gained in March 2’s win at Xavier and feels should lead to more playing time.
The rookie also doesn’t expect the venue of the Barclays Center, the new home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, to be overwhelming or affect his play.
“Once I get on the floor the first minute or so, after I get all the nervousness out, I’ll be good,” Davis said.
Stephen Sellner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @Stephen_Sellner.