UMass men’s basketball struggles in the rebounding game in season-ending loss vs. VCU

By Andrew Cyr

Photo by Judith Gibson-Okunieff
(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

NEW YORK — The 2015-16 season for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team has often come down to its stellar guard play. But when matched with the bigger, stronger, more physical Virginia Commonwealth team Friday night in Brooklyn, the Minutemen had no answer.

UMass’ (15-18, 7-13 Atlantic 10) lack of depth inside proved to be the downfall as the Rams (23-9, 15-4 A-10) outrebounded the Minutemen 49-31 en route to an 85-70 win in the quarterfinals of the A-10 tournament.

VCU finished with 20 offensive rebounds, leading to 16 second-chance points as the Rams outscored UMass 50-38 in the paint.

“I thought we did a great job on the backboard. That was critical. Offensive rebounding was tremendous,” VCU coach Will Wade said. “That was a point of emphasis for us coming into the game. (We) got a lot of extra possessions that way.”

While senior guard Melvin Johnson led the Rams with 19 points and junior guard JeQuan Lewis finished with 16, it was the combination of  Justin Tillman (10 points, nine rebounds) and Mo Alie-Cox (eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks) that hurt the Minutemen inside. Everyone with the exception of Doug Brooks – who played one minute – finished with at least two rebounds for the Rams.

As a byproduct of the offensive rebounds, VCU outshot the Minutemen 72-57.

“VCU played a great game today. They obviously won the game on the backboards with – 20 offensive rebounds that turned into many points. I thought that was the difference in the game,” Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg said.

“They have an advantage because a lot of their players, they focus on rebounding. They have players that all they want to do is rebound,” UMass center Rashaan Holloway added. “We had obviously had trouble with keeping them off the glass today.

As a team, the Rams shot just 1-for-16 from 3-point range, going 0-of-11 in the first half despite taking a 39-30 lead into the locker room.

With the highlight reel plays not coming at a minimum for the VCU, its most impressive sequence of the night came when Alie-Cox blocked a Donte Clark jumper with two minutes, 26 seconds remaining in the first half that led to a 3-on-1 fast break for a Tillman dunk off of a perfectly-timed pass from Johnson.

While UMass seniors Trey Davis (20 points) and Jabarie Hinds (16) led the Minutemen in scoring, it was Holloway who was the biggest factor for the Minutemen, finishing with 16 points (8-of-10 shooting) and eight rebounds in a career-high 29 minutes.

Alie-Cox, who spent most of the night battling with Holloway in the post, couldn’t help but shake his head and chuckle when he was asked about going up against the 335-pound freshman center.

“It reminded me of like freshman year when I was guarding Josh Smith from Georgetown,” Alie-Cox said. “I couldn’t see around him. It took all my energy just trying to get in front of him, but once I got in front, they would hold the ball so long, he would like fight back and get position, so I just tried to do my best to hold him off.”

“You know, I think Rashaan showed what he’s capable of doing in short bursts. He probably summed it up the best as he continues to get in great shape,” Kellogg added.

“I think he has a chance to be a dominant big man in our league.”

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