NEW YORK – It took a sneaky Chaz Williams steal on the George Washington offensive end to save the Massachusetts men’s basketball team in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
Down by three with 12 seconds left, Colonials forward Patricio Garino corralled a long rebound on a 3-point miss – their 25th offensive board of the game – looking to dish the ball for one final heave to try and tie the game. But Williams came up behind Garino in the corner and knocked the ball loose and passed it up-court as GW was left to foul out of desperation, and two Williams free throws later, UMass stamped its ticket to the A-10 Quarterfinals with a 77-72 victory Thursday night at the Barclays Center.
The Minutemen (20-10) managed to win despite being outrebounded, 50-32 – 25-13 on the offensive glass – and only having seven players available for the final 2:48 after Terrell Vinson and Cady Lalanne fouled out.
GW (13–17) crashed to the rim early and often, grabbing second-chance looks and, in some occasions, third- and fourth-chance attempts, as UMass was caught staring at the rim when a shot went up instead of boxing out. The Colonials finished with 21 second-chance points.
“We have athletic guys, so sometimes we try to use our athleticism to go get the rebound instead of boxing out,” Williams said. “Coach killed us all week in practice about boxing out, but it still didn’t get through our thick heads right now. We know we’re gonna hear some more about it tonight.”
This isn’t the first time the Minutemen have been torched on the offensive glass. In their loss to Butler two weeks ago, the Bulldogs grabbed 17 offensive boards and had a 37-20 overall rebounding advantage.
UMass coach Derek Kellogg attributed some of Thursday’s rebounding woes to GW’s flex offense that, he said, constantly has three or four guys around the rim.
“That lends them to be a good offensive rebounding team, and I assume they practice that quite frequently,” Kellogg said. “We talked about (rebounding), we worked on it and we didn’t execute, so we probably have to go back and try some different things next time if we’re playing a rebounding team like them.”
The Minutemen were also forced to play without arguably its two best post players, Vinson and Lalanne, down the stretch. Vinson became a spectator for the final 5:14 and UMass faced a four-point deficit shortly after Lalanne fouled out, but still managed to escape with the victory. Vinson and Lalanne logged 18 and 15 minutes respectively.
UMass coach Derek Kellogg knows that his guys were “very fortunate” to escape with a victory despite being dominated on the glass and nursing serious foul trouble.
“If we have two guys that should have a lot of energy tomorrow night, it should be Cady and T.V. (Vinson),” Kellogg said. “And I thought getting outrebounded by 18, it was nice to come away with a victory, and that shows a team that’s maturing or has matured.”
With the win, the Minutemen move on to face the No. 3 seed Temple Friday at 9 p.m. The Owls just squeaked past UMass, 83-82, at the Mullins Center in the two sides’ only meeting of the season, but the Minutemen had Temple’s number in last year’s A-10 Quarterfinals, upsetting the then-top-ranked Owls, 77-71.
When asked what UMass will have to do to take down Temple, Williams was focused solely on stopping A-10 Player of the Year Khalif Wyatt. Wyatt led the conference in scoring with his 19.9 points per game.
“He’s an awesome player,” Williams said. “We’re just gonna have to stop him, and once we cut the head off the train, everything will start moving. So we’re just gonna have to control him and just stick to our game plan, and we should come out with a victory.”
Stephen Sellner can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @Stephen_Sellner.