Richmond, VA (SportsNetwork.com) - With absolutely no margin for error, the 25th-ranked Rams of Virginia Commonwealth try to keep pace atop the Atlantic 10 Conference standings as they entertain the Massachusetts Minutemen at the Siegel Center on Saturday.
UMass comes into the contest sporting a 16-10 record, which includes a 9-4 league ledger -- the latter earning the Minutemen a tie with Davidson for fourth place. UMass dropped a 75-59 decision at Rhode Island on Wednesday night, ending what had been an impressive six-game winning streak. The setback also snapped a three-game road win streak, and dropped the club a game under .500 on the road this season (5-6).
VCU owns a 20-6 overall mark, and its 10-3 record against conference foes has it tied with both Dayton and Rhode Island for first place entering the weekend. The Rams have won their last two games, topping George Washington (79-66) and Saint Louis (74-54) in the past week -- the modest win streak coming on the heels of back-to-back losses, and three defeats in their previous four games.
This encounter marks only the fourth meeting between these two schools in men's basketball, with VCU having won two of the first three.
Jabarie hinds scored 17 points, Derrick Gordon had 15 and Donte Clark 14 for UMass, but those efforts went to waste as Rhode Island posted a double-digit win over the visiting Minutemen earlier in the week. Cady Lalanne grabbed 10 rebounds in the losing cause, as UMass shot 45.7 percent from the field, but missed two-thirds of its 3-point tries (3-of-9) while going just 14-of-25 at the free-throw line. The Minutemen were also outrebounded (35-27) and committed 18 turnovers, off which URI scored 21 points. The Rams converted 23- of-32 foul shots in the victory.
For the season, UMass is putting up 69.5 ppg, which ranks it fourth in the A-10, but its defensive yield of 69.3 ppg ranks 11th. The Minutemen feature four double-digit scorers, all of whom are starters, in Trey Davis (11.7 ppg, 3.6 apg), Lalanne (11.5 ppg, 9.0 rpg), Maxie Esho (11.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Derrick Gordon (10.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg). UMass is just about even when it comes to cleaning the glass (+0.7), but has been rather careless with the basketball in coughing it up an average of 14.2 times per contest, sporting a turnover margin of -1.7.
VCU dialed up the defense in its recent win over Saint Louis, as it held the Billikens to 37.8 percent field goal efficiency, while forcing 14 turnovers and logging a 38-29 rebounding advantage. Offensively, the Rams dropped 46.3 percent of their total shots, which included an 8-of-23 showing beyond the arc. They were only 61.5 percent accurate at the charity stripe, but still managed to outscore SLU there, 16-13. Treveon Graham and Michael Gilmore were the only players for VCU to reach double figures, netting 16 and 10 points, respectively.
Graham (15.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Melvin Johnson (12.9 ppg) are the only two players averaging double digits in the scoring column at present for VCU, although the team as a whole is putting up 73.8 ppg to rank second in the A-10. The Rams are one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the league,. converting a mere 63.9 percent of their tries, but they are one of the best in terms of hitting their 3-point attempts (.424, fifth). Defensively, VCU is giving up 65 ppg (seventh), but it is tops in the A-10 in both steals (10.0 spg) and turnover margin (+6.73).