AMHERST, Mass. – Chaz Williams had had enough of Havoc. In two games against the vaunted VCU defense last season, Williams had compiled as many turnovers as assists, both losses for Minutemen.
The latter of those two defeats, ousted UMass from the Atlantic 10 semifinals. One day later it became easier for the NCAA tournament committee to leave the Minutemen on the cutting room floor while extending bids to five Atlantic 10 opponents.
Williams wasn’t going to let a third one get away, not in front of a sellout crowd at the Mullins Center, or ‘House of Pain’ as he refers to it as in the team’s pregame video; an acronym, which stands for pressure, agitate, interrupt, neutralize . In his 38th minute on the floor, he dug deep in a defensive stand, turning Briante Weber before picking his pocket. Williams would be fouled, and calmly sank two free throws, icing an 80-75 UMass win over VCU on Friday night.
“We bring pain,” Williams said. “We don’t bring no Havoc. That’s their slogan, that’s what they do. We all about pain over here.”
In a fast-paced 40 minutes, VCU and UMass swapped the leads a dozen times, the last of which occurred when Trey Davis, the reserve guard, who struggled as a freshman against VCU, sliced through the lane and pull-up for a mid-range jumper. He altered his body midair, but connected on the go-ahead bucket, giving UMass a 70-68 lead with 4:00 minutes to play.
“He’s a different player,” VCU head coach Shaka Smart said. “He’s not the same guy, who we played against last year. … He really gives them a different element when he comes in the game because he can handle the ball.”
After turning the ball over 47 times in two games last season the Minutemen committed 14 turnovers. UMass forced 17 VCU miscues.
“Yeah the turnover margin is plus-three for them,” Smart said. “There are very few teams we faced where we lost the turnover battle. I think some of it was sloppiness on our part. They have the ability and Chaz showed it on the last play. They have the ability to really ratchet up their defense.”
Despite struggling in conference play, where the Minutemen suffered back-to-back losses to St. Bonaventure and St. Joseph’s and a home loss to last-place George Mason, the last week has made it almost a certainty — avoiding a massive collapse — that UMass will in the program’s first NCAA tournament since 1998. The Minutemen gutted out a win in D.C. last Saturday against George Washington and added another good conference win over VCU on Friday night. The last tough draw for UMass will be Mar. 1 against first-place Saint Louis.
A loss last year inside the Barclays Center sent UMass to the NIT, bursting its bubble rather than strengthen its tournament resume. Williams and the Minutemen got redemption over Havoc on Friday night, though the Rams will look for the same thing in the coming weeks, in Brooklyn, in a potential rematch.