UMass men’s basketball overcomes late VCU surge in 69-63 win

By Andrew Cyr

(Mirei Seki/Daily Collegian)
(Mirei Seki/Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team couldn’t make it easy on itself. What looked like a sure win at the beginning of the second half, UMass let Virginia Commonwealth slowly creep back into Thursday’s game, leaving many thinking, “Here we go again.”

But the Minutemen (10-13, 3-8 Atlantic 10) did enough to hold on and walked away with a 69-63 win at Mullins Center against the first-place Rams (17-7, 9-2 A-10).

After shooting a perfect 7-for-7 in the first half from 3-point range, Antwan Space drilled another 3-pointer in front of UMass’ bench to open the second to give the Minutemen a 46-32 lead after playing their best half in conference play that included a 13-0 run.

But VCU inched its way back as UMass went on a 3-of-18 stretch in the second half as the Rams tied it at 52 with six minutes, 19 seconds remaining after trailing by as many as 15 in the second half.

However, it was Donte Clark’s 3-pointer on the ensuing possession that regained the Minutemen lead they wouldn’t let up for the remainder of the game.

“I wasn’t looking to try to make a momentum play, I think it just fell in my hands and I had no other choice but to shoot it with the shot clock going down,” said Clark, who finished with a game-high 22 points.

“If they did get deflated, I’m glad they did.”

UMass avoided a second late-game scare after Zach Coleman missed the backend of a pair of free throws with the Minutemen leading 66-63 with 24 seconds remaining that would have given them a two-possession lead.

But Coleman chased down his own rebound and tipped the ball out to Trey Davis (18 points) at the top of the 3-point arc to save the possession. Davis made 1-of-2 free throws that secured the UMass win.

“Honestly I was (upset) I missed the second one, but when I saw the opportunity I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get it but I saw Trey and I think Donte (at the top of the key),” Coleman said. “My whole mindset if I missed it was to crash, get the possession back and foul so we could go back to the line.”

After struggling for much of conference play, which forced him out of the starting lineup, Jabarie Hinds had his best game of A-10 play finishing with 18 points (7-of-10 shooting), seven assists and five steals.

Following the game Hinds said that it was his defense on VCU point guard JeQuan Lewis (15 points) that jumpstarted his game rather than his offensive performance.

“I knew I had to focus in because JeQuan Lewis is a good point guard. He likes to get in the lane and get the ball out (to the wings) and also scores the ball. I just wanted to make it hard on him,” Hinds said.

Korey Billbury tied Lewis for a team-high 15 points for the Rams while their leading scorer, Melvin Johnson, was held to 13 on 5-of-15 shooting. Mo Alie-Cox added 10 points in VCU’s second straight loss after it had its 12-game winning streak snapped last Sunday against George Washington.

“I think (VCU) is, if the not best, one of the best teams in the conference and a NCAA tournament team,” Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg said. “It showed that our guys are still out here fighting and playing hard and that they are competing and want to try to make some noise before the Atlantic 10 tournament.

Berger suffers head injury

With 7:25 remaining in the first half, UMass forward Seth Berger suffered a head injury that forced him to miss the remainder of the game for precautionary reasons.

Berger’s injury happened after Hinds stole the ball from Doug Brooks that led to a transition basket for the Minutemen. As the play was happening, Berger fell to the ground trailing the play in the backcourt.

“He’s O.K. He got hit pretty good during the game, which we didn’t see. The good thing is he did get hit and didn’t just fall down. We’re monitoring for concussion symptoms right now,” Kellogg said.

UMass spokesman Cody Lahl said during the game that Berger was cognitive and responsive while he was being evaluated in the locker room.

“We’re going to monitor him. He might have to take a day off or two or maybe even longer than that,” Kellogg said.

Andrew Cyr can be reached at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.