UM trims Rams

KINGSTON, R.I. — The late game-altering play allowed UMass’ Raphiael Putney to blow his own horn, more than a little bit.

Putney’s block of Rhode Island’s T.J. Buchanan with 40 seconds left Sunday protected the Minutemen’s narrow 3-point lead. With a few clinching free throws coming down the end, UMass snapped a three-game road losing streak within the Atlantic 10 Conference by knocking off the Rams, 73-68, before 6,511 at the Thomas M. Ryan Center.

The Minutemen (19-4, 6-3 A-10) mounted a late comeback from a seven-point deficit, holding Rhode Island to only six points in the game’s last 8:35 and two field goals in the final 10:15. URI’s Xavier Munford was knocked down while shooting a 3-pointer and made all three of his free throws with 8:35 remaining, boosting the Rams into a 62-55 lead, matching their largest of the day.

Chaz Williams then scored five of UMass’ next seven points to forge a 62-62 tie at the 4:31 mark. Gilvydas Biruta worked inside for a Rhody basket, but Williams retied the game on a drive to the hoop.

Munford’s foul shot with 3:44 to go made it 65-64 for the hosts, before Williams hit a runner in traffic and Derrick Gordon flipped in a scoop layup to put UMass up 68-65.

Buchanan then stole a pass and led a two-on-none fast break, but Putney ran him down from behind, blocking the layup try off the backboard. Gordon rebounded the miss and got the ball to Williams, who was fouled and made two at the line with 31.8 seconds left to make it 70-65.

“It was a close game and I just couldn’t let them have that free layup, so I had to do everything I could,” said Putney. “I sprinted as hard as I could. I’m known for blocking shots in the chasedown, so I just got it. It was a great block by me, and it saved us.”

“That’s a modest way to put it,” retorted UMass coach Derek Kellogg, to a round of laughter in the postgame interview room. “Huge block by Put to really seal the game. That block does make up for a lot of his miscues out there today. We played really hard, didn’t always do the right thing, but I thought that was a big-time road win for us.”

UMass still had to work around a late 3-pointer by Munford that pulled URI within 70-68, but Davis was fouled twice in the last 13.6 seconds and made 3-of-4 free throws. In between, Rhody’s E.C. Matthews had a basket wiped out when teammate Jarelle Reischel hit the twine with the ball in the cylinder, resulting in an offensive interference call.

Williams scored 21 points with seven assists to lead the Minutemen, while Putney and Gordon each added 11 points. Putney’s four blocks came one game after his career-high five swats Wednesday against La Salle. Gordon also pulled down a game-high nine rebounds.

Matthews (game-high 24 points) and Munford (19) combined for 43 of the Rams’ 68 points. Reischel came off the Rhody bench to score seven and Biruta and Ifeanyi Onyekaba each had six points.

Sixteen seconds into the action, Gordon picked off a pass and took it the distance for a layup, and UMass got its next two baskets, from Putney and Sampson Carter (nine points), both on fast breaks.

Rhode Island (11-13, 2-7 A-10) used an 11-2 run midway through the first half to take its largest lead, 29-22, with 5:34 to play. UMass then put together eight straight points, including two baskets by Gordon and an alley-oop dunk by Putney from Williams’ setup to lead 30-29. After the Rams went back in front 35-33, Cady Lalanne (six points, eight rebounds, three blocks) dunked off a Williams feed and Williams made one of two free throws with 0.6 seconds to go, putting the Minutemen up 36-35 at halftime.

In spite of 61 percent shooting from the field — and 74 percent accuracy from 2-point range — UMass made only 8-of-14 at the line and turned the ball over 10 times in the opening half, leading to nine URI points. Rhode Island shot only 38 percent, but cleaned up at the stripe with 12 makes in 16 tries.

The second half started well enough for the Minutemen with an old-fashioned 3-point play by Carter and a putback by Putney, making it 41-35. Rhode Island quickly wiped it out a 15-5 run of its own, including two treys by Munford and one by Matthews, to lead 50-46.

UMass answered with the next six points to go up 52-50, then Maxie Esho’s short jumper tied the game at 55-55 before the Rams rattled off seven straight, including Munford’s three foul shots.

Over the final 8:35 of the game, URI was held to 2-of-11 shooting from the floor and committed six turnovers after taking its 62-55 lead.

“We did a better job of just locking up, getting on the guys and making it really hard on them,” said Kellogg. “Their offense was starting out a little further (from the basket) than I think they would like. I’ve got to give credit to our pressure on the perimeter. We played pretty good defense that kept us around when we weren’t making shots offensively.”

UMass outrebounded Rhode Island 36-27 and ended up shooting 53 percent from the field to the Rams’ 41 percent.

The Minutemen host George Mason (8-15, 1-8 A-10) Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center. GMU, the Atlantic 10’s newest member, picked up its first league victory Saturday on the road at Duquesne.

Notes: Sunday’s 73-68 final score marked the third such identical score in the Minutemen’s last nine games, following a 73-68 win over St. Bonaventure Jan. 11 and a 73-68 loss at Saint Joseph’s Feb. 1. … Esho returned to action for UMass Sunday wearing a padded headband, after suffering an apparent concussion and head laceration in the Saint Joseph’s game. He played 27 minutes with seven points, three rebounds and three blocks.

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