Poor second half dooms UMass in 28-point loss

Minutemen shoot 19 percent from the field in final 20 minutes

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Daily Collegian / Dylan Nguyen (2023)

By Dean Wendel, Collegian Staff

Virginia Commonwealth University shot 53 percent from the field and 50 percent from deep to put away the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, 83-55. With seven points separating the teams at halftime, the game was once in reach for the Minutemen. However, any hopes of winning were quickly dashed in a 24-6 Ram run which spanned over nine and a half minutes of second half action.

To open the second half of Tuesday night’s Atlantic 10 showdown, VCU’s (14-5, 5-1 Atlantic 10) Nick Kern made a wide-open layup on the Rams’ first possession. This was followed by a UMass (11-7, 2-4 A-10) shot-clock violation.

Looking back on it, those 51 seconds were a sign of things to come.

“To start the second half, we never defended,” Frank Martin said postgame. “If you don’t defend, you’re not going to win. You’re not going on the road and outscoring VCU in their building. You’re not doing that… [VCU] just spaced us and drove us. Guys on the ball had no accountability and no desire to fight, and then without Wildens [Leveque], we lose our help defense.”

Despite Martin’s defensive comments, the UMass offense was even more anemic closing out the game. At one point, the Minutemen went on a 4-of-28 shooting slump that led to a 6-of-32 second half. Matt Cross and Dyondre Dominguez were the only players who scored in double digits for the team, and the latter scored all 10 of his points before halftime.

The Minutemen weren’t just missing tough shots either. According to Bart Torvik’s metric, coming into the game UMass ranked 307th in the country in close two percentage, as the Minutemen made just 53.8 percent of their shots around the rim. On Tuesday night, the team shot 12-of-28 (43 percent) on close twos.

With the way UMass shot near the rim, it’s not difficult to believe that their perimeter shooting wasn’t strong either. T.J. Weeks, one of UMass’ biggest perimeter threats, never found his shot as he finished the game 1-of-8 from behind the arc. Dominguez helped out by making two of his four three-point attempts; the remainder of the team shot 2-of-21 from deep.

Ball control was also a problem for UMass. VCU’s famed “Havoc” defense, begun by Shaka Smart over a decade ago, centers around applying pressure on opposing offenses and creating turnovers. Without leading scorer and main facilitator Noah Fernandes tonight, the Minutemen fell victim to “Havoc,” suffering 16 turnovers, 11 of which came in the second half.

“All of the things that we talked about trying to do on how to attack [VCU], we didn’t do,” Martin said. “We played hero basketball. We had guys doing their own thing. And when you do your own thing, you have bad floor spacing. If you have bad floor spacing, that means that the other team’s going to get a runout sometime. And that’s exactly what happened.”

Sophomore forward Jalen DeLoach led the Rams in scoring, achieving his first career double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds. He showed impressive touch inside the paint, and with Leveque limited due to foul trouble, DeLoach was able to outwork Minutemen bigs for rebounds all night.

Jayden Nunn’s perfect night from the perimeter (3-of-3 from deep) helped the Rams secure the victory. Zeb Jackson and Brandon Johns Jr., both new arrivals this season from Michigan, made their mark on the game, scoring 12 and 10 points respectively.

“We lost our discipline, we lost our attention to detail, offensively and defensively,” Martin said. “We couldn’t make a shot in the second half and it broke our spirit and we let go of the rope. When you do that, you get run off the court like we just did.”

UMass will look to recover on Saturday afternoon against Saint Joseph’s at home. Tipoff’s at 1:00 p.m. on ESPN+.