(VCU’s Melvin Johnson – Photo by Mike Lawrence – Sportsday Wire)
The VCU Rams got off to a strong start at the Atlantic 10 Tournament, as they blew out UMass. 85-70 in the quarterfinals on Friday night.
VCU came out firing, as they jumped out to a 17-6 lead and led 39-30 at halftime.
The Rams opened the second half on a 23-6 run to open up a 26-point lead, 62-36, with 12:17 left in the game. That was basically it, as the closest UMass got was 15 points, at the very end.
VCU was led by Melvin Johnson, who had 19 points, two rebounds, and an assist. JeQuan Lewis had 16 points, seven rebounds, and three assists. Korey Billbury had 12 points and five rebounds. Justin Tillman had 10 points and nine rebounds, shy of a double-double by just one rebound. Mo Alie-Cox had eight points and seven rebounds.
VCU Head Coach Will Wade said of the game, “Good win, good to get the first one, obviously. I thought we did a great job on the backboard. That was critical. Offensive rebounding was tremendous. That was a point of emphasis for us coming into the game. Got a lot of extra possessions that way. Thought we played extremely hard. Start of the second half really helped us attacking downhill, getting to the front of the rim, being able to finish in there. We’ll take it. Good win.”
Mo Alie-Cox said of VCU scoring a lot of points in the paint and almost every possession in the second half, “I think in our last game, one of our last home games at Davidson we hit one three, also, so we just tried to keep attacking the paint, killing them on the glass. We saw Rhode Island get a bunch of offensive rebounds yesterday, so we knew we could do the same thing. Like the first time we played them, we didn’t play our game. We were like lackadaisical and lazy, so we just tried to come out here and worry about ourselves and not worry about them and just control what we can control, and we just attacked them on the glass, and we finished it.”
Justin Tillman said of it feeling like a home game today with the kind of pro-VCU atmosphere at Barclays Center, “Yeah, we had mostly our fans out there so we got a lot of energy and you always want to come out and put on a show.”
Wade said of the disparity in threes, as VCU shot 1 for 16 from behind the arc, but scored so many points inside, “I think that’s growth in our team and our program. We’ve been pretty reliant on the three in the past. I think this year — we’ve had some games like this. The Davidson game at home we were this exact same way and we just pounded that thing in the paint and were able to score. That’s just growth in our team, growth in our program. UMass is a good team. They’re playing really well here at the end of the year. Hinds is playing well. They clubbed us up there pretty good. It wasn’t as close as the final score. We made it respectable at the end. They got us pretty good up there, and they’ve been playing really well.”
Wade said of it playing into their hands when teams want to run with them, “I think our defense led to our offense. When we’re able to get out in transition — we just got downhill and got to the front of the rim so much in the second half. Yeah, I mean, that’s what we need to do. We need to be able to get downhill and get to the front of the rim, make things happen at the rim, and when you do that, a lot of good things are byproducts of that. The offensive rebounding, that’s why we took 15 more shots than they did.”
Wade said of playing Justin Tillman more, “He’s earned it. He’s working hard. He understands what we’re doing quite a bit better now. Just got to let him play through mistakes. He makes things happen when he’s out there. Sometimes he makes them happen for both teams, but he makes things happen when he’s out there, so you want guys who are making things happen and are about action. He’s not timid. He’s going to go after it, and something is going to happen. It’s 75 to 80 percent positive for us, so that’s what you want.”
VCU will play Davidson in the semifinals on Saturday at 4:00 pm.