It was a golden opportunity in the capital of Virginia Tuesday night.
If the young University of Massachusetts men's basketball team could beat preseason Atlantic 10 Conference favorite Richmond, the Minutemen could have been looking at the possibility of earning a double-bye in next week's A-10 Tournament. A veteran University of Richmond team, however, had no time for these new kids on the block.
The Spiders took the lead for keeps three minutes into the game, led by as many as 18 points and held UMass to one basket in the final four minutes en route to a 79-65 win over coach Matt McCall's team.
"We got outworked in a lot of different ways. We got out-coached for sure," McCall said. "Everyone wants to talk about the layoff ... we're not going to make excuses, we're not going to do that."
The Minutemen (7-5, 6-3 Atlantic 10) had come into the game having not played since Feb. 6, and had four games canceled. Richmond (13-5, 6-3) had played three games since having four canceled. UMass had only two practice sessions before getting on the charter for Richmond.
"The two stats that stand out to me the most that [shows] you got outworked is we lost the rebounding margin by six, and when you look at their numbers in the country in terms of rebounding, it's one of their weaknesses — if they have a weakness," McCall said in a postgame Zoom call with reporters. "They shot nine more free throws than we did. That, to me, is just getting outworked and out-toughed.
"Being out-coached definitely is in there as well."
Richmond's win was its fifth straight over UMass at the Robins Center. Overall, the Spiders have won seven of the last eight.
The loss drops UMass into a three-way tie with Richmond and Davidson for third place in the Atlantic 10. The bad news for the Minutemen is that if those records hold, UMass would end up being the fifth seed in the tournament because it had lost to both Richmond and Davidson.
"We can take some positives out of this game and build on them," UMass guard T.J. Weeks said, "and the negatives, work on them. I'm sure Saint Louis was watching this game and will try to replicate what [Richmond] did to us.
"Our weaknesses, we have to turn into positives."
One of those positives was the play of freshman forward Dyondre Dominguez. Dominguez had 15 points to lead UMass in scoring. He set career-best marks in practically every offensive and defensive category. He was 5 of 7 from the floor, 1 of 3 from 3-point range, and 4 for 4 from the foul line. He had two rebounds, an assist and a blocked shot.
While there wasn't a ton for McCall to smile about, he sounded thrilled about the performance Dominguez had in his career-best 18 minutes.
"One of the things I loved about Dyondre when we recruited him was just his energy and the passion he plays the game with, and bringing that every single day whether it's in practice or in games," McCall said. "That's what we need from him. He had success. Obviously the ball went in the basket for him. But I thought it was more than that. I thought Dyondre's effort was really, really big and I think it's going to be big for us going forward.
"We're going to need him."
Weeks scored UMass' first five points with a drive to the hoop for two, making it 5-5. The Spiders responded with a 9-2 run, and it appeared that the Minutemen were going to be out of this game early.
Didn't happen there, as UMass cut the lead to one after Ronnie DeGray III hit two free throws just after the under-16-minute media time out. It turned out to be as close as the Minutemen got.
The Spiders, who play that Princeton offense that involves lots and lots of back cuts for backdoor layups, got way too many open looks in the first half, and after Jacob Gilyard found Nathan Cayo and Matt Grace for easy inside shots, McCall had to call timeout with 9:44 left. The score at that point was 26-17. The Spiders upped the lead to 43-32 at halftime, holding the Minutemen to one hoop in the last four minutes.
There are a couple of things about the 2020-21 Minutemen: Some games, they don't shoot it well and have trouble scoring. Never, however, do they just roll over.
A 10-2 run by Richmond midway through the second half gave the host an 18-point lead. Unlike many teams, including several UMass teams over the past decade, this one did not fold its tent. After making it a single-digit deficit, the Minutemen twice cut the Richmond lead to seven points. They could not, however, get a hoop to make it a two-possession game.
"We just needed a couple of more stops," said Weeks, who scored only three of his 14 points in the second half. "We made our runs when we cut it to nine or seven, we needed that next rebound, that next stop. They did a good job of getting to the free-throw line or getting the extra rebound."
Tre Mitchell played 22 minutes for UMass, but scored only nine points. That ended a run of 32 consecutive double-digit games for the sophomore. Javohn Garcia chipped in with 10 points for UMass.
Blake Francis had a game-high 20 points for Richmond, while Cayo had 18 and Grant Golden had 16. Jacob Gilyard, a preseason All-Atlantic 10 first-team pick only scored nine points on 1 for 8 shooting and 6 of 8 from the line. But the 5-foot-9 guard had a game-high nine rebounds, six assists and four steals.
The Minutemen have five days to practice before heading out to Saint Louis for a Monday night game. It's the regular-season finale, as McCall's team will head back to Richmond for the start of the tournament.
"We've got to get back to playing hard. We've got to get back to all the things that can make our team really, really good — moving, sharing the ball, celebrating each other's success. Defensively, just playing really hard," McCall said. "[Monday] is a big challenge for us.
"It's an unbelievable challenge for us and going into the Atlantic 10 tournament, we need to be putting ourselves in those challenging games and we're looking forward to that on Monday."
Garcia 4-8 0-0 10, Gasperini 0-0 0-0 0, Pierre 3-13 1-3 7, DeGray III 2-5 3-4 7, Weeks 5-9 1-2 14, Dominguez 5-7 4-4 15, McCrory 0-0 0-0 0, Fernandes 1-5 0-1 3, Mitchell 4-8 1-1 9. Totals 24-55 10-15 65.
Gilyard 1-8 6-8 9, Francis 7-15 1-2 20, Burton 2-8 0-2 4, Cayo 8-14 2-2 18, Golden 7-8 2-6 16, Koureissi 0-0 0-0 0, Grace 1-2 3-4 5, Wilson 0-1, 0-0 0, Gustavson 2-3 2-2 7. Totals 28-59-16-24 79.
Halftime — Richmond 43, UMass 32. 3-point shooting — UMass 7-27 (Garcia 2-4, Pierre 0-6, DeGray III 0-2, Weeks 3-7, Dominguez 1-3, Fernandes 1-3, Mitchell 0-2). Richmond 7-20 (Gilyard 1-6, Francis 5-9, Burto 0-2, Cayo 0-1, Grace 0-1, Gustavson 1-1). Rebounds — UMass 31 (DeGray III 5, Weeks 5). Richmond 37 (Gilyard 9, Cayo 7). Assists — UMass 1 (Garcia 4). Richmond 17 (Gilyard 6). Turnovers — UMass 13 (DeGray III 4). Richmond 6 (Cayo 4). Fouls — UMass 20. Richmond 15. Officials — Bria Dorsey, Raymie Styons, Earl Walton.