UMass finally got the old-school atmosphere back into the Mullins Center it has been seeking for almost two decades, and the Minutemen responded with a win that reminded many of the golden age of this program.

Chaz Williams scored a game-high 20 points, with 14 coming in the second half, and stripped VCU’s Briante Weber in the closing seconds to secure a 80-75 victory in a battle of Atlantic 10 favorites in front of a sold-out crowd of 9,493 last night.

The Minutemen needed a victory like this one, given the way the conference schedule has shaken out, with four losses in their last eight games entering last night. But beating a team like VCU that is headed toward the NCAA tournament could boost momentum with the conference tournament around the corner.

UMass improved to 21-5 and 8-4 in the conference to pull into a tie with the Rams (20-7, 8-4) with four games left.

“They have proven stuff to me every step of the way this year and in years past,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “I’m proud of these guys and we rebounded from a tough loss to George Mason with two big victories. Now we just can’t settle and rest on our laurels. It’s good that we’ve had a good run to this point, but how far can this team go? I think we can do something special this year.”

The stage was set for an exciting finish, considering the way these two teams were trying to run each other off the court. Sophomore Trey Davis took his man to the hoop, stopped in the lane and hit an off-balance jumper with 1:30 remaining for a 74-71 lead.

“It wasn’t completely called for me,” Davis (13 points) said of the play. “My shot wasn’t really falling because I really couldn’t get much lift today on my shot because of my thigh. I felt good. I felt comfortable.”

The Rams are built on their defense and active hands, and they almost got the turnover they needed several times in the final possessions. But the ball had a funny way of finding UMass hands at the right time. Williams jumped up in a crowd and volleyball spiked the ball to Davis, who hit both of his free throws to put UMass up by five in the final minute.

VCU’s Treveon Graham (19 points), who fought foul trouble in the second half, scored going to the hoop after Weber nearly turned the ball over to cut the lead to three.

Sampson Carter threw the ball away on his own baseline and Raphiael Putney was called for a foul on Melvin Johnson, who hit both free throws. Williams was bumped by Weber to send him to the line on the next UMass possession.