UMass basketball players seek revenge when VCU visits on Friday

By Patrick Strohecker

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team hasn’t forgetten what Virginia Commonwealth did to it last season: An 86-68 drubbing at VCU on Feb. 14, 2013 and then a nine-point loss in the Atlantic 10 semifinals that ruined any chance at a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

This is why Friday night’s meeting will be personal for the Minutemen.

“They were in the way of our chances of making it to the Tournament, and that hurt a lot of us and that made us feel it,” UMass point guard Chaz Williams said.

But for one Minuteman, the bitter feeling of losing to the Rams twice in one season goes back further than last year.

Redshirt sophomore Derrick Gordon played VCU twice—in back-to-back games—when he was a freshman at Western Kentucky. His Hilltoppers lost to now VCU coach Shaka Smart’s team by five points in the seventh-place game at the Charleston Classic, and then three days later, Gordon’s team got embarrassed on its home floor when WKU lost 68-45 to that same Rams team.

“I’m going into the game with more of a chip on my shoulder,” Gordon said. “It’s much more personal.”

But Gordon had to wait to get his revenge against VCU, having to sit out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. During that time, he watched from afar as UMass felt the same pain that he had, losing two games in the span of a month to the Rams.

Even with this personal rivalry spanning two years for Gordon, there will still be a few familiar faces on the other side of the court when the two teams meet again on Friday night.

“They’ve still got the same players there,” Gordon said. “That’s the crazy thing about it. It’s all still the same players—(Briante) Weber and all those guys.”

Weber is one of five players still on the VCU squad that dominated Gordon and the Hilltoppers in 2011, and now four of them—Weber, junior Treveon Graham and seniors Juvonte Reddic and Rob Brandenberg—are starters.

Gordon and the rest of the Minutemen have a lot to prove on Friday night. Now it’s just a matter of Gordon channeling all of his long-standing frustrations and knowing that his teammates will have his back.

“I know if DG’s feeling that way, he has a lot in him and he wants to bring the best out,” Williams said. “So him saying that means a lot to us as a team, because I know he’s coming out with extra fire on Friday.”

Still, exacting revenge on an experienced Rams squad won’t be easy. Their “havoc” defense has given teams fits for years, including UMass. But, with experience in their back pockets, Gordon and the rest of the Minutemen are going to be ready when VCU visits a sold-out Mullins Center on Friday night.

“Of course, they’ve gotten better over the years, but I’m going to be ready for it,” Gordon said. “I’m sure they’re going to remember my face, because I definitely remember all their faces.”

Patrick Strohecker can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @P_Strohecker.