UMass men’s basketball falls to VCU at home on Saturday

Minutemen committed a season-high 22 turnovers

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Sophie-Zoe Schreyer / Daily Collegian

By Pedro Gray Soares, Collegian Staff

A poor showing against the Dayton press didn’t teach the Massachusetts men’s basketball team how to prepare for VCU, as the Minutemen committed a season-high 22 turnovers in their 77-62 home loss to the Rams on Saturday.

Suffocating man-to-man full-court pressure is a Rams (20-7, 13-3 Atlantic 10) staple. Their defense ranks 14th in the nation largely due to their press and traps, and UMass (12-15, 5-10 A-10) could not find a way to deal with it all afternoon.

“Not good,” UMass head coach Matt McCall said on how he felt about the game. “Did a poor job handling the pressure, we turned it over on the very first play of the game. All we talked about in the last 48 hours was how we were going to attack it… just didn’t execute versus their press. It’s almost like we were distracted because we were so consumed or concerned with when the trap was coming, if it was coming.”

For the second game in a row a more athletic, superior team dominated the Minutemen. Both teams played solid defense in the first few minutes, but VCU managed to keep the focus and intensity and pulled away quickly.

The Rams aren’t known for their scoring ability, but defense led to offense for them Saturday. The UMass backcourt hadn’t had this much trouble bringing the ball up the court in the entire season, and VCU took advantage with 27 points off turnovers.

“You play distracted,” McCall said on his guards bringing the ball up against the press. “You’re concerned, consumed. All we talked about was once we get it across half court, sprinting to our spots, running offense, executing, cutting hard. We didn’t do any of those things.”

Giveaways didn’t just come from the full-court press and traps. Traveling violations and poorly timed, inaccurate passes helped pile up the turnover count. When a UMass ball-handler couldn’t beat the man in front and picked up his dribble, VCU defenders almost always jammed the player, causing more turnovers.

“That’s just sort of our philosophy, we want to defend every dribble,” VCU head coach Mike Rhoades said. “We want to turn guys, we don’t want them to dribble the ball up the floor, want them to be worrying about the guy on them all the time, and then that’s when we can start trapping and pressing the way we do.”

It is not every day that the UMass frontcourt outplays its guards. The Minutemen are known for their shooting and guard play, but in this case their big men were the only bright spot of the game for the home team.

McCall applauded the effort of his frontcourt players Trent Buttrick, – who led the team in scoring and rebounding, – Michael Steadman, Greg Jones and a surprise appearance by Dyondre Dominguez.

“I thought their effort was through the roof, I thought they were really, really trying out there and trying to play hard,” McCall said. “Even when we chucked Dyondre [Dominguez] in there to give us some life, some energy, because that’s what Dyondre can really do.”

Buttrick and Steadman were the only Minutemen in the double digits with 12 and 11 points, and both finished with eight rebounds in the contest. One of the only stats in which UMass overpowered VCU was rebounding, beating the Rams 36-27 on the glass.

The backcourt had a performance to forget. The five main guards combined for 22 points on 6-of-26 shooting, 1-of-13 from three, nine assists and 16 turnovers against the second best 3-point defense in the nation.

Noah Fernandes continues to struggle from the field while Rich Kelly had zero points, one assist and four giveaways, T.J. Weeks added three points.

On the defensive side the Minutemen weren’t any better. VCU averages 65 points per game, but scored 77 on the Minutemen, including 48 points in the paint. A lot of which is due to turnovers, but the Rams made strong cuts to the basket and finished around the rim more often.

“We had to move them,” Rhoades said on attacking UMass’ defenders. “I think they’re a good defensive team when they’re set. Our biggest thing we want to do is move the defense. When you do that, you have a greater chance of getting them in rotation. Two on the ball, get the ball hot, now they’re scrambling.”

UMass will take on Fordham on the road next. Tip-off is scheduled at 7 p.m.

Pedro Gray Soares can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @P_GraySoares.