Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass dominates VCU from opening tip in most resounding Atlantic 10 win

Minutemen jump right back into the race for a double-bye spot
Devin Lippman
Daily Collegian (2024)

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team completed a start-to-finish statement victory over Virginia Commonwealth University on Tuesday night. UMass led the entire game in its 74-52 home win, dominating the Rams in a must-win game.

Since starting on a 17-2 run, the Minutemen (17-9, 8-6 Atlantic 10) never let VCU (17-9, 9-4 A-10) back within double digits, quickly drowning any comeback attempt. The team had struggled to close out games all season, but this time put up their most complete yet when protecting a lead. The 52 points allowed are a season-best for UMass.

“These guys, they’re starting to figure it out,” head coach Frank Martin said. “We’ve been playing good basketball here for the last six, seven games … It’s a fun group. They care, they care. We came out and started the game the way we prepared the last two days, and it just continued and we were able to sustain that lead and never give in.”

With VCU sitting fourth in the standings and UMass coming off a loss at La Salle, there was no margin for error in the race for an A-10 double bye. The Minutemen had to defend their home court if they wanted to stay in it. This performance showed the growth of a young team that’s getting hot at the right time.

Martin’s group is now 8-1 after a loss. He joked about being the only coach in the A-10 who still builds with freshmen, but the age of his squad has not impacted their ability to bounce back. They’ve showed mental toughness beyond their years when going against teams filled with seniors and fifth-year players, and VCU was no different.

UMass had been right there against all of the strongest teams in the conference. It beat Richmond on the road, St. Bonaventure and VCU at home, lost at Loyola Chicago on a last-second basket and were in a two-point game at Dayton with 30 seconds left. The 22-point victory over the Rams was a coming together moment where the team showed it can beat anyone when it plays a full game. Up until Tuesday night, the Minutemen had only struggled with leads in conference play.

“We’re five, five possessions away … [from] 21 wins right now,” Martin said. “Five. That doesn’t happen by mistake, that happens because you got good dudes in that locker room, that fight … We got eight freshmen, two sophomores, they’re fighting their tails off. We’re learning how to win … We line up against whoever, our team should have confidence if we play a certain way, we’ll have a chance to win the game. Hopefully that’s something we can build on as we finish the regular season here.”

It became a large lead incredibly quickly. UMass’ opening run came largely due to its own merits, but VCU’s inability to put the ball in the basket at the Mullins Center handed the hosts a comfortable cushion. The Rams’ first two-point field goal came at the 4:31 mark in the first half. They didn’t make a basket in the paint for 16 minutes and didn’t hit their first field goal for 11 minutes. VCU scored four points in the paint in the first half and ended the game 6-for-18 on layups.

One of the biggest keys to the game was UMass’ dominant front court. Cohen played arguably his most complete game as a Minuteman, and along with Matt Cross, both did whatever they wanted in the paint — on both sides of the court.

“Josh Cohen today, everyone [talks] about his scoring and all that, that’s awesome,” Martin said. “It’s the best defensive game he’s played since he’s been here, and he prepared that way in practice. Matt hurt his hand in a drill on Sunday’s practice, he finished practice but his hand was all swollen after practice and we thought it was broken. It was just a bruise, so typical Matt Cross [he played through it]. I told him to start hitting his hand before every game if you’re going to shoot threes like that.”

Cohen led the game with 20 points on 7-for-10 from the field. He added seven rebounds and four assists to go along with the strong defensive performance. He finished with an 18-point, 12-rebound double-double on 7-for-9 from the field and 3-for-3 from three. He had no turnovers and his defensive impact cannot be understated.

“[Cohen] went through a tough patch there at the end of January,” Martin said. “His enthusiasm, which is what he’s done around here, to uplift our locker room, uplift our fans, uplift our team, is a spirit — he loves being at UMass, and he lets you know that.”

Fans got to enjoy the team’s most resounding conference win against a top opponent in years, as it was the second largest attendance of the season for the Minutemen with 4,313 fans in the building.

For VCU, Joe Bamisile and Max Shulga led the charge in scoring, finishing with 13 and 10 points, respectively. They were the only players in double figures as the Rams shot 30.4 percent from the field.

UMass has another crucial A-10 game coming up on Saturday, Feb. 24 against St. Bonaventure. Tipoff is set for 2:30 p.m.

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

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