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VCU holds off UMass 71-62 to reach Atlantic-10 tourney finale

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- After watching his team struggle from the field throughout the game, missing wide-open jumpers and even layups, VCU coach Shaka Smart appreciated the irony of how his team finally put Massachusetts away Saturday night.

Rob Bradenberg hit a desperation 3-pointer as the shot clock expired late in the game for the second-seeded Rams. The shot all but ended the sixth-seeded Minutemen's comeback bid and led No. 25 VCU to a 71-62 victory at the Barclays Center.

Along with Troy Daniels' 20 points and the Rams' trademark pressing defense that caused 24 turnovers, the shot pushed VCU into the tournament final in its Atlantic 10 debut season. The Rams (26-7) will play top-seeded St. Louis at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.

"Yeah, that was a dagger," Smart said of the shot that gave VCU a 68-61 lead with 1:21 to play.

Smart smiled as he said the team charts shots, ranging from great to awful or no-shot, and identified Bradenberg's heave from the corner as "one of our worst quality shots of the game. But he had to take it.

"It's kind of ironic, because we missed a lot of wide open, easy shots in the game and that was the one we made to put it out of reach from the corner there."

UMass coach Derek Kellogg certainly recognized the impact of the shot as Terrell Vinson had hit a dagger three with the shot clock running out late Friday night to help the Minutemen upset second-seeded Temple. This time, Vinson was held to just two points before fouling out late in the game.

Brooklyn native Chaz Williams, who scored 28 Friday, had 18 to lead UMass, which now hopes its season hasn't run out as it waits to find out if it will make the NCAA tournament.

"You know what's crazy? I thought it was going in," Kellogg said of Bradenberg's back-breaker. "It was just one of those ones. Vinson's was like that. It's unfortunate for us, because if we rebound the ball and score, it's a two-point game."

As for Selection Sunday, Kellogg pointed to UMass' strength of schedule and willingness to travel along the way to a 21-11 season as to why he felt his team should make the tournament, but said he would spend it in a meditative state.

"I might set up a lot of candles in the basement and go hang out," he said.

Daniels had six 3-pointers while Juvonte Reddic added 18 points, including 13 in the second half for the Rams, who were boosted by a strong showing from their vocal fan base.

UMass hung tight until the final minutes, closing within 65-61 on Maxie Esho's free throw with 1:56 left, but Bradenberg's three all but ended the threat.

"It was a great experience," Williams, who scored 62 points in three games in his old neighborhood, said of playing in the A-10 tournament in Brooklyn. "It would have been even better if we would have walked out with a championship, but it was a great experience for me, for my teammates and for the program."

Down 10 midway through the second half, the Minutemen went on a 12-4 run to pull within 58-56 on Williams' drive with 5:23 left.

But VCU reeled off the next six points to boost the lead back to eight. Briante Weber scored on a 3-point play, hitting a foul shot to go with his layup, before stealing the ball on the Minutemen's next possession and feeding Daniels for his sixth 3-pointer of the game and a 64-56 lead with 4:18 remaining.

Weber, who became the school's single-season steals leader Friday, said he aggressively went to the basket on his drive because Smart tells his players to attack the rim. The steal came because "basically, they were trying to push it," Weber said of the Minutemen. "We basically sped them up to doing things they don't usually do."

Up one at halftime, the Rams opened a 10-point lead with a 10-2 run midway through the second half.

Reddic scored six points during the stretch, which was capped by a layup from Melvin Johnson after a steal by Treveon Graham to make it 54-44 with 10:06 left.

VCU entered halftime with a 35-34 lead despite trailing for most of the half, including a nine-point deficit midway through.

But Daniels hit three straight 3-pointers to give the Rams a 24-23 lead with 4:11 left in the half and the teams stayed tight to the intermission.

"It's a confidence thing," Daniels said of his hot streak. "When guys go out on the court and have VCU across their chest, we feel like we can do anything."

Cady LaLanne led UMass with 10 points and five rebounds in the first half, scoring six straight points for the Minutemen in one stretch.

NOTES: VCU's boisterous crowd showed its support early, even hijacking the Butler pep band by chanting "V-C-U!" as the Bulldogs played St. Louis in the earlier game. ... The Rams dropped a road loss to the Billikens 76-62 on Feb. 19, when St. Louis managed to turn the ball over only eight times. "St. Louis was better in every aspect of the game on that night, now we get another opportunity to play them again, on a neutral floor, and we have to play better to win," Smart said.

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