Minutemen to play George Washington in opening round of Atlantic 10 tournament
KINGSTON, R.I. — The last time the University of Massachusetts won the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball tournament was in 1996. If the Minutemen are going to break that drought this year, they will have to beat two rivals from that era.
UMass clinched the No. 6 seed in the conference tournament with its 75-66 win over Rhode Island combined with Xavier’s loss to Butler on Saturday. That sets up a rematch for the Minutemen with No. 11 George Washington at 9 p.m. Thursday in the first round of the tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. All first round games will be televised by NBC Sports Network.
If UMass can avenge its earlier loss to the Colonials, it would get one more Atlantic 10 game against rival Temple at 9 p.m. Friday in the tournament quarterfinals. The Owls earned the No. 3 seed and first-round bye by beating Virginia Commonwealth on Sunday.
George Washington entered Saturday’s action in danger of missing the tournament if it lost to Dayton, but Isaiah Armwood’s put-back dunk with two seconds left gave the Colonials an 81-80 overtime win over the Flyers.
George Washington beat the Minutemen 79-76 to put a damper on Marcus Camby’s jersey retirement ceremony on Jan. 19. Joe McDonald led the Colonials with 16 points and 10 assists that day.
The surprise of the Atlantic 10 field is that St. Bonaventure is not in the tourney. The Bonnies needed only to beat Fordham at home Saturday to get in, but the Rams pulled the upset 76-72.
Saint Louis clinched the No. 1 seed by beating La Salle Saturday. The Explorers’ loss also locked Virginia Commonwealth into the No. 2 seed and dropped La Salle to No. 4.
No. 8 Richmond and No. 9 Charlotte will open the tournament at noon Thursday followed by No. 5 Butler vs. No. 12 Dayton at 2:30 p.m.
No. 7 Xavier will play No. 10 Saint Joseph’s at 6:30 p.m.
UMass coach Derek Kellogg said he believes Saturday’s win means the Minutemen still have a chance to earn an at-large NCAA Tournament bid.
“I think we had to win (Saturday) to even have a shot to win enough in the (conference) tournament,” said Kellogg, who could not tell what his team needed to do from reading bracket predictions online. “Some people have us close, some people don’t even know who we are.”
MILESTONES — Junior point guard Chaz Williams, who has led the Atlantic 10 in assists all season, wrapped up the league honors for the season with 10 assists Saturday. His total of 219 and average of 7.6 per game were well ahead of anyone else in the conference.
The 219 assists are the fourth best single season total in UMass history. Depending on how many more games the Minutemen play this season, Williams is within striking distance of the record held by Edgar Padilla who had 247 in 37 games in 1995-96.
Williams now has 450 assists in his UMass career which is sixth all-time, three behind Kellogg.
SHORT REST — The win improved the Minutemen to 2-4 this season when they have had less than two full days to prepare for a game, a situation they would continue to face as long as they advance in the Atlantic 10 tournament. The semifinals are Saturday afternoon and the championship game is at 1 p.m. Sunday.
THREE LEGENDS ON THE ROAD – Three of the five Minutemen who have their numbers retired at the Mullins Center were at the Ryan Center for Saturday’s game. In addition to Lou Roe, who is on the UMass staff, Trigger Burke made the trip down from his southeastern Massachusetts home. Al Skinner, who played at UMass and coached at URI, was recognized at halftime as part of a ceremony honoring the Rams’ 1987-88 team that advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at @GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.