VCU’s defense key in A-10 quarterfinal win

The Rams move on to the semifinals on Saturday against Davidson; VCU beat Davidson twice during the regular season

A10 Tournament: VCU 85 -- UMass 70. (PHOTO CREDIT: Brooke Marsh/Capital News Service)

NEW YORK (WRIC/CNS) – Without a stellar shooting performance, VCU was still able to tame the University of Massachusetts in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals by a score of 85-70 on Friday night.

“I thought we played extremely hard. Moving on, we’ll take it. I thought it was a good win.” — VCU Head Coach Will Wade

The Rams move on to the semifinals at 4 p.m. Saturday against Davidson, which defeated St. Bonaventure, 90-86, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. VCU beat Davidson twice during the regular season.

“You always want to win the first one,” VCU head coach Will Wade said after the Rams’ victory over the UMass Minutemen.

The Brooklyn nets – no pun intended – weren’t too keen on capturing VCU’s open jump-shot opportunities throughout the entirety of the game.

The Rams made only one 3-pointer in 16 attempts. Overall, VCU shot 40 percent from the field, connecting on 29 of 72 shot attempts.

Senior Melvin Johnson led VCU in scoring with 19 points. Although his shot wasn’t falling, the Bronx native was able to drive to the basket at will, which created free throw opportunities for the team.

But Johnson created a moment of uneasiness as he limped off the court in the closing moments due to an apparent ankle injury.

Wade said a definite status on the injury will not be clear until later. But he said the situation will not change how he plays Johnson or the rest of the team for the rest of the A-10 men’s basketball tournament.

“We will play whoever we need to play tomorrow to win the game,” Wade said. “Nothing for sure, we will deal with everything else after that.”

VCU was able to attempt 72 shots on the evening thanks to second-chance opportunities. The Rams were the beneficiaries of 16 second-chance points compared with the Minutemen’s six.

On the offensive glass, junior Mohamed Hamdy dominated during his nine minutes of play. Hamdy recorded six rebounds and eight points that helped the Rams’ lead continue to grow.

But the star of the night came from the increased play of sophomore Justin Tillman. Although a wild card of productivity in the season, Tillman stepped up enormously, catalyzing some of the night’s most pivotal moments for VCU.

Tillman registered 10 points and nine rebounds during his 24 minutes of action. Flirting with his fourth double-double of the season, Tillman was the key for VCU’s comfortable lead throughout the game.

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“He makes things happen when he’s out there,” Wade said. “He’s not timid. Something is going to happen, and we need some of these guys to step up.”

Senior Mo Alie-Cox contributed eight points and seven rebounds in his 31 minutes on the court. The senior was in a jovial mood post-game as he was in the middle of a heavyweight battle with UMass’ 6-foot-11 freshman Rashaan Holloway – all 335 pounds of him.

“It took all my energy just to get in front of him. But once I got in front, they would hold the ball for so long, so I just tried to do my best to hold position,” Alie-Cox said.

A good portion of VCU’s most faithful supporters showed up and showed out for their Rams. Black and gold cloaked the Barclays Center, and the players felt the impact.

“It was most of our fans out there, so we got a lot of our energy from them,” Tillman said.

VCU’s defensive pressure on the UMass offense caused the Minutemen’s attack to become stagnant, even non-existent at times.

UMass senior guard Trey Davis felt the pressure the most.

Davis scored 20 points in his team’s win against Rhode Island on Thursday night, and he registered 20 points against VCU in two regular-season games. During the teams’ last matchup on Feb. 11, VCU lost, 67-62.

Davis claimed another 20 points Friday, but he was held to just four first half points.

“I thought we played extremely hard,” Wade said. “Moving on, we’ll take it. I thought it was a good win.”

8Sports will have a crew in New York covering VCU and UR as they compete in this week’s conference tournament. Stay with our Havoc Haven and Arachnophilia blogs for complete coverage. 

Capital News Service is a student-operated news reporting program sponsored by the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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