Friday nights game at UMass was billed as the biggest in Amherst since Marcus Camby starred for John Caliapari's version of the Minutemen and the game against VCU certainly lived up to the hype.
There is a tired impression where writers or commentators compare a game to two prize fighters exchanging blows...sorry but I have to use that impression here.
The crowd at UMass was incredible and so was the game. In a frantically paced game VCU took a 39-34 advantage. The half was capped with missed three pointer by Chaz Williams, after which he started jawing with a couple of Rams on his way off the court.
You thought the pace would have to slow down a bit in the second half but that couldn't be farther from the truth. After series of back and forth exchanges and some monster dunks and surging runner from Williams gave UMass the lead 50-49 with 13:47 left. It was the Minutemen's first lead since nearly the ten minute mark in the first half.
One thing that needs to be pointed out, and lead into the high energy and pace of this game for VCU, was the emergence of Mo Alie-Cox. Earlier this week Terrance Shannon left the Rams for personal reasons which meant more time for Alie-Cox and Jarred Guest. Alie-Cox took advantage of the opportunity and fed off the great atmosphere at UMass. Shaka Smart knew he would need a way to counter UMass' multifaceted attack, especially Cady Lalanne, and I really don't think the Rams could have kept up with the Minutemen without Alie-Cox tonight.
Derek Kellogg had to burn a timeout at the 8:46 mark as Shaka Smart's team went on a 9-0 run after he called a timeout of his own with just under 12 minutes to play. The Rams run gave them a 61-56 advantage.
Just like VCU, UMass responded out of their timeout and took back a 68-67 lead thanks to two Derrick Gordon free throws with just under five minutes to play. UMass would expand their lead to three, an advantage they would carry 35 seconds were left on the clock and Trey Davis nailed two free throws to give the Minutemen a 76-71 lead.
Chaz Williams iced the game 8.7 seconds to play as he turned the tables on VCU's Briante Weber and picked the pocket of the Rams all-time assist leader. Williams free throws would send UMass to a 80-75 win.
Williams finished the night with 20 points including an 8-for-8 night from the free throw line. Free throws were the main difference in this one as VCU was just 10-for-22, while UMass was 20-for-27.
The ever steady Treveon Graham lead the Rams with 19 points on the evening and added 8 rebounds.
VCU is now just 2-4 on the road in the Atlantic 10 this season, with one of those wins coming in double-overtime at La Salle. VCU's loss tonight actually knocked them out of the conference's top four seeds and pushing them outside the ever important double-bye in the A10 Tournament. The Rams will look to rebound Thursday at Fordham, a team they beat 76-60 in Richmond last month.
UMass has now won two major games in a row after knocking off George Washington Saturday and VCU tonight. The Minutemen will now look to keep things going when Rhode Island comes to Amherst on Wednesday.
I think all college basketball fans are hoping for a rematch of this game in Brooklyn.
Atlantic 10 Top 4 Seed Battle