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 men’s hoops to face VCU in A-10 quarterfinals

Minutemen look to beat the Rams a second time this season
Devin Lippman
Daily Collegian (2024)

It’s Atlantic 10 Tournament time and the Massachusetts men’s basketball team knows its opponent: a rematch against No. 5 seed VCU in the quarterfinals game on Thursday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Last time these two teams matched up against each other was on Feb. 20 when the Rams (20-12, 11-7 A-10)  took on the Minutemen (20-10, 11-7 A-10) at the Mullins Center, with UMass dominating in a 74-52 victory.

The Minutemen haven’t played since their win over Fordham on March 6. A double-bye berth gave UMass ample time to rest and ready itself for its quarterfinal game.

“It allowed everybody to quiet down their bodies and their minds and … we create an unbelievable pressure amongst ourselves in here every day, to do our jobs as well as we can…” head coach Frank Martin said. “To be able to hit the reset button for 72 hours at this time of year was extremely helpful.”

Throughout UMass and VCU’s last game, the Minutemen were in complete control and never looked back after taking a commanding lead. UMass’s top duo, Josh Cohen and Matt Cross put on a show that game, with Cohen scoring 20 with seven rebounds and Cross scoring his fifth double-double of the season with 18 points and 12 rebounds.

Cross and Cohen were both named to the A-10 All-Conference First Team. With those honors, big games are expected again for the two seniors who have been leaders to this young UMass team all season.

“[Cross has] got no ‘let me step back or out of the way’… [he’s] full throttle ahead and we’re going forward, I don’t care what’s in front of us, and Josh has a great demeanor. He’s got a great spirit, and they complement each other,” Martin said.

Rahsool Diggins was the only other player for UMass to score in double figures that game, with 10 points on the night. Diggins was named the A-10 Co-Most Improved Player of the Year, becoming a real threat from the perimeter as the Minutemen’s third leading scorer.

In the last matchup, UMass caught a break with VCU’s poor shooting stretch that affected them for more than 10 minutes in the first half. The Rams didn’t score a single field goal until the 8:50 mark in the first, which was a 3-pointer made by Max Shulga.

Shulga is VCU’s top scorer, averaging 15 points and 4.9 rebounds a game. The senior from Ukraine was held to 10 points and five rebounds, and only attempted 3-pointers all game, going 3-for-5 from behind the arch.

During VCU’s opening game in the conference tournament against Fordham, Shulga finished the game without missing a shot or free throw. He scored 14 points, grabbed seven boards and dished out four assists. The Minutemen can’t bank on another 0-14 field goal drought, so their defense will have to be prepared to defend Shulga and the rest of the athletic Rams’ offense.

But, with a healthy Keon Thompson expected to be back in the rotation for UMass, Thompson’s defensive presence will be welcomed back with open arms. The Minutemen felt his absence in the regular season finale and in the few games prior when the sophomore tried to play through the pain.

The game may not unfold the same way as it did last time, but UMass’ key factors to competing against the Rams will be to stick with what they have excelled at throughout the season. Winning the rebounding battle, taking care of the ball and outscoring its opponents in the paint are all aspects of the game that have helped UMass win meaningful games during the regular season.

“We’ve gotten to a place of peace with what we think works, and we try to utilize the last couple of days to really zero in on those things, and try to be really good at those things as we head into this week,” Martin said.

VCU’s top scorer against UMass was Joe Bamisile, who scored 13 points and grabbed four rebounds while shooting 3-of-13 from the field and 5-for-6 at the line. Bamisile averages 13.9 points a game and is the Rams’ second-leading scorer behind Shulga.

With each team’s season and a trip to the semifinals on the line, another A-10 dogfight can be expected.

“The thing with postseason basketball, there’s a lot of unknown, but you also know that the end of the race is not too far away,” Martin said. “So, you’ve got to keep running and hope you can get through that line.”

UMass and VCU will play on Thursday, March 14 at 2 p.m. The game will air on USA Network.

Samantha Sands can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @samantha_sands_.

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