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 can’t complete comeback after shaky start at VCU

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

RICHMOND, Va. — At times, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team couldn’t do much right. At others, the Minutemen looked like a team ready to pull off an improbable comeback – to respond to adversity in the face of the toughest environment in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

They erased a 16-point deficit, briefly took a lead against Virginia Commonwealth and proved it could play with the Rams – something that wasn’t believable shortly after the game start. The Minutemen found a way to at least handle VCU’s vaunted Havoc defensive pressure. They responded.

But ultimately, it still wasn’t enough.

VCU (21-6, 11-3 A-10) outlasted UMass, throwing a proverbial second half counterpunch to fend off the Minutemen Saturday at the Siegel Center, winning 78-72 which capped a disappointing week for the Minutemen.

“I was happy with the way our guys responded,” Kellogg said. “I thought we came back and fought and scrapped. We needed to make a few more plays down the stretch.”

It was UMass’ (16-11, 9-5 A-10) second straight loss in what Kellogg called the toughest week of the season. Much like Wednesday’s loss against Rhode Island, a lackadaisical start harmed the Minutemen. UMass committed 19 turnovers which led to 24 Rams points – something center Cady Lalanne pointed to as ultimately detrimental following the loss.

“We’ve got to come out and start playing a little bit harder,” Lalanne said. “Because both games, turnovers killed us.”

Even then, UMass cut the deficit to 70-67 with 42 seconds remaining after Trey Davis hit a long 3-pointer. But the Minutemen couldn’t force a turnover on the ensuing inbound and the Rams didn’t falter at the free throw line, securing the victory.

“I thought our guys competed,” Kellogg said. “I wasn’t super happy at the start when we were turning it over every other possession, but I liked the way we fought back.”

VCU opened the afternoon on an 8-0 run. It took UMass nearly six minutes to make a field goal and, by then, it already had five turnovers. It was a nightmare start and the Rams took advantage – running out to a 27-11 lead.

Yet the Minutemen came back behind explosive play from an unlikely source.

Reserve guard Demetrius Dyson scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds in the opening frame. But it was the way in which he did it which gave UMass a sorely needed boost. Dyson attacked VCU aggressively and didn’t shy away from contact, even when the Minutemen faced a significant deficit.

“I thought today we couldn’t take him off the floor,” Kellogg said. “He was invaluable for us when he was out there … it’s nice to see a sophomore guard come into his own some.”

His play appeared to spark his teammates. The Minutemen ended the half on a 19-7 run – keyed by two challenging jump shots from Davis and Jabarie Hinds – and trailed 35-30 at halftime.

“We went into the second half knowing we can play with them if we just contain the pressure,” Lalanne said. “They were up 16, we came back, cut it down to five – coming out in the first four minutes was going to be crucial.”

And play with them they did.

Trailing 47-36, UMass went on a 12-0 run, suddenly taking a 48-47 lead with 12 minutes, 24 seconds remaining. It was one of the few stretches where the crowd hushed and UMass suddenly, improbably, had a lead and surging confidence.

But VCU answered with an 11-2 run of its own, spurred by two monstrous dunks from forward Mo Alie-Cox to re-take a 58-50 lead with 7:33 remaining.

“I thought we responded well,” Lalanne said. “We came back, but they started making shots … It hurts.”

UMass never fully recovered. Davis hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to five, but VCU extended its lead to as high as 11 points. Even when UMass cut it back to three, it had neither the time or enough fouls to properly mount a comeback.

“I think we can play with them,” Kellogg said. “They’re the perennial best team in our conference and I don’t think there’s that much separation. If we play well, I think we can compete with those guys.”

Hinds led UMass with 16 points and five assists, while Davis added 14points. Lalanne had 13 points and eight rebounds while Dyson finished with 12 points off the bench.

Rams guard Treveon Graham led all scorers with 24 points and 10 rebounds, while guard JeQuan Lewis chipped in 15 and Alie-Cox had 12.

UMass departed from Amherst this week tied atop the A-10 and positioned to work its way into the NCAA tournament picture. It returns home empty-handed, instead focusing on regrouping as the Atlantic 10 Tournament looms in three weeks.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” Lalanne said. “That’s how the season is, there’s ups and downs. We’ve just got to learn from this and try to push forward with the other two games we’ve got at home and make a run to Brooklyn.”

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.

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