No. 25 VCU beats UMass 71-62 in A-10 semifinals
Rob Brandenberg's contested 3-pointer from the corner with the shot clock about to expire might go down as the worst shot VCU attempted against UMass on Saturday.It was also the Rams' biggest basket.Brandenberg finally gave No. 25 VCU some breathing room against the pesky Minutemen, and the Rams won 71-62 to reach the Atlantic 10 tournament title game in their first season in the conference.VCU (26-7) will face top-seeded Saint Louis on Sunday in a matchup of the league's top two teams during the regular season.Troy Daniels made six 3-pointers to score 20 points, and the Rams forced 24 turnovers.Brandenberg's 3, with Chaz Williams draped all over him, put VCU up 68-61 with 81 seconds left."It's a little ironic, because we missed a lot of wide open, easy shots throughout the game," coach Shaka Smart said. "And that was the play that kind of put it out of reach."Williams ended his A-10 tournament run back home in Brooklyn with 62 points in three games for sixth-seeded UMass (21-11), which upset Temple in Friday's quarterfinals. He scored 18 on 7-of-12 shooting Saturday.But Williams also committed five turnovers. The Minutemen now might find themselves one big win short of an NCAA tournament bid Sunday."It was a great experience," Williams said. "It would've been even better if we could've walked out with a championship."The Minutemen were within 58-56 with 4 1/2 minutes left. Then VCU went on a 6-0 run in nine seconds, with Briante Weber in the middle of things.Weber drove the lane, drew contact from Sampson Carter and got the foul call as the ball fell through the net."I could see it was one-and-one and the big man was in front of me, so I just attacked the rim," Weber said.After he completed the three-point play, Weber made a steal, and he found Daniels for a 3-pointer and a 64-56 lead.UMass started out poised against the Rams' frenetic defense. The Minutemen committed just two turnovers in the first 10 minutes to take a 20-11 lead.Then VCU's subs brought some energy, and Daniels hit 3-pointers on three straight possessions to put the Rams in front."It's a confidence thing," Daniels said. "When guys go out there on the court and they have VCU across their chest, they feel like they can do anything."Juvonte Reddic added 18 points and 12 rebounds.Melvin Johnson's fast-break layup after a turnover capped a quick spurt of six straight points midway through the second half for a 54-44 lead. As UMass called timeout, noted New York City basketball fan Spike Lee, wearing a VCU T-shirt, stood and applauded.But the bigger Minutemen wouldn't go away. UMass outrebounded the Rams 50-36 and got to the foul line 26 times.Coach Derek Kellogg was left to lament some good looks the Minutemen missed inside."It felt like they were playing volleyball down there with the ball," he said.VCU now must see if its defense can rattle the veteran Billikens. Saint Louis won 76-62 at home in their one meeting Feb. 19, committed just eight turnovers, tied for the season low forced by the Rams."We've just got to play better," Smart said. "There's all kinds of strategic things that we'll talk over with our team. But the bottom line is Saint Louis was better than us in every aspect of the game on that night. Now we get another opportunity to play them on a neutral floor."
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