Lack of scoring hurts UMass men’s basketball in loss against VCU

Minutemen shot 3-of-19 from three

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Sophie-Zoe Schreyer / Daily Collegian

By Frederick Hanna III, Assistant Sports Editor

Saturday afternoon’s contest against VCU was the second straight game the Massachusetts men’s basketball team lost by at least 15 points, losing out to the Rams by a final score of 77-62.

UMass (12-15, 5-10 Atlantic 10) struggled to generate any sort of offense against VCU (20-7, 13-3) in its penultimate home game of the season. Its guards consisting of Noah Fernandes, Rich Kelly and T.J. Weeks combined for 12 points on 3-of-17 shooting from the field. Saturday’s game mirrored how the Minutemen performed in their loss to Dayton during the middle of the week. UMass finished with two players in double digits for the second straight game with Michael Steadman being the lone player in both contests to do so.

The Minutemen combined for 3-of-17 beyond the arc, a season low for the team and their lowest amount of made threes since their opening night win over UMBC. UMass has been known throughout the season as a consistent threat from 3-point range. Out of its starters, Trent Buttrick and Fernandes were the lone players to make one 3-pointer.

“I felt like we were a little rushed [with our shots],” Trent Buttrick said. “We don’t really shoot that bad from three that often so it’s kind of a rarity. I think the pressure [from VCU] just got to us a little bit today.”

Since coming back from being in concussion protocol after his collision with Buttrick in the road game at Saint Louis, Fernandes hasn’t quite found his stride on offense. In his last three games the junior hasn’t made more than three shots per game and is 2-of-11 from three.

“Obviously they are a long, athletic [team],” UMass coach Matt McCall said when describing VCU’s defense on Fernandes. “He’s having to do a lot out there. [VCU’s defense] is running at him, trapping him and they were being aggressive with him. Noah’s logged a lot of minutes this year for us, played a lot of games. Hopefully he is getting his treatment right now and in the ice tub, it’s that time of year [with fatigue].

UMass found itself down by 18 points in the first half after putting up 23 points, tying the season low for points in the first half. The Minutemen didn’t get to ten points until the 8:47 mark in the first half. One player finished the half with more than five points and that was Buttrick who had eight on 3-of-6 shooting from the field. Fernandes played the whole first half and connected on one field goal out of his eight attempts.

Fernandes’ counterpart in the backcourt Rich Kelly was held scoreless for the first time this season. Kelly went 0-for-4 from the field which tied his season low on the year for shot attempts. It was the first time he attempted a  four shots since Dec. 4 against Harvard.

In the second half UMass outscored the Rams 39-36 but it wasn’t enough to overcome the large deficit it put itself in at the break. The Minutemen doubled their shooting percentage from the floor from 25.8 percent in the first half to 54.2 yet made only one 3-pointer to end the game.

“We take great pride in guarding the ball and not letting teams beat us from three,” VCU coach Mike Rhoades said. “It’s a huge emphasis for us, no matter who we play, even teams with lower [3-point] percentages. Threes get you beat, and we want to defend that. We want to guard the ball and defend at the rim. Take away all the threes, that’s just our philosophy.”

UMass has a difficult road ahead with three games over the next six days, two of them coming against Fordham. The first game is set for Monday on the road against Fordham with tipoff at 7 p.m.

Frederick Hanna III can be reached at [email protected] and can be followed on Twitter @FrederickHIII.