Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass basketball eliminated from Atlantic 10 Tournament with loss to VCU

NEW YORK — With his team leading by four and one minute, 19 seconds remaining, Rob Brandenberg stepped back and launched a seemingly impossible fall-away 3-pointer in the left corner as the shot clock expired with Chaz Williams draped all over him.

Courtesy Atlantic 10 Conference

For the 34 seconds before that, the UMass defense was stifling, not allowing Virginia Commonwealth any easy looks, and the Minutemen got exactly what they wanted when Brandenberg took what VCU coach Shaka Smart called one of the worst shots of the game.

Seemingly, UMass would grab the rebound and run up the floor with a chance to cut its deficit to one possession and then get back on defense to try to make one last game-saving stop.

But then, the inconceivable happened.

Brandenberg’s shot – somehow – went in, and with it sank the Minutemen’s chances to grab a signature win for their NCAA Tournament resume as the Rams held on for a 71-62 victory on Saturday at the Barclays Center to advance to the Atlantic 10 championship game on Sunday against Saint Louis.

“That was the dagger,” Smart said of Brandenberg’s shot. “But you had to take it, and he made a big play. It’s a little ironic because we missed a lot of wide-open, easy shots throughout the game and then that was the play that I guess put it out of reach.”

UMass coach Derek Kellogg had other ideas when he watched the ball leave Brandenberg’s hands.

“It’s crazy, I thought it was in,” Kellogg said. “It was just one of those ones, I was like, ‘This one’s going in, I can’t believe it,’ and it went in.

“Sometimes in big-time college basketball, that happens.”

Not only Brandenberg’s shot, but missed layups and opportunities also came back to haunt the Minutemen throughout the game, but perhaps none bigger than the one they relinquished with five minutes left of a tight contest.

UMass went on a quick 4-0 run to cut a once six-point deficit to two with 5:23 remaining, and after a missed jumper from VCU guard Briante Weber, the Minutemen came back down with a chance to tie or take the lead. But Cady Lalanne missed a layup, and Weber grabbed the rebound, took it coast-to-coast and converted an old-fashioned 3-point play to put the Rams up 61-56.

With it, a potentially game-changing momentum swing was lost, and the Minutemen never got closer than four the rest of the way.

“I thought it was pretty close (to being the turning point),” Kellogg said. “We had a lot of bodies flying down there and they came down and I thought it was a block (foul) honestly, but that’s just a tough call in that situation.

“That’s what happens in tournament basketball sometimes, all the breaks don’t go your way.”

UMass, playing in front of a crowd made mostly of VCU fans, got out to a quick start and took a 20-11 lead after a Williams jumper with 11:26 left in the first half.

But the Rams, playing with their usual frenetic, “havoc”-style pace, stormed back, going on an 11-0 run fueled by two Troy Daniels 3-pointers and capped by a breakaway, one-handed slam from Weber that gave VCU a 26-23 lead with 3:39 left in the half and re-energized its crowd as Kellogg called a timeout.

“That was a big momentum swinger and knowing that once he hit the first one, we were coming back to him, and he hit another one,” Weber said of Daniels, who finished with a game-high 20 points on 6-for-9 shooting from 3-point range. “The first play I called was ‘Buzz,’ which is his play, and we went back to him and he hit another one, so that pretty much turned the tides for VCU. We rode him.”

Williams once again led UMass with 18 points, as he constantly took the ball off the dribble and attacked the basket throughout the afternoon in an attempt to make plays for an offense that was inefficient outside of him.

Sampson Carter, Terrell Vinson, Maxie Esho, Raphiael Putney and Freddie Riley scored just one field goal each and combined to go 5-for-28 from the field, and the offense as a whole missed 19 layups that could have made the difference.

“I was talking to Cady and Maxie and it felt like they were playing volleyball down there with the ball,” Kellogg said. “It was a miss, then he missed, then he got it and he missed. I’m not quite sure what it was, I mean there were a lot bodies in there banging around, so you have to be a little more physical, a little bit of it was fatigue, some of it was inexperience, and I can bet you that those two won’t be missing those next year.”

The Minutemen (21-11) will now wait for the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee to determine their fate on Sunday night when the field of 68 is announced. Most media outlets have them pegged as a bubble team, but Williams isn’t paying attention to any of that outside noise.

“You can only worry about Selection Sunday. That’s the truth right there,” he said. “The committee says whether you’re in or you’re out, so we’re just waiting for tomorrow. Hopefully they find some things. Hopefully they were here tonight to watch us play, and they feel like we deserve to be in.”

Stephen Hewitt can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.

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