UMass awaits URI
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — After dodging a bullet in Kingston, R.I., and another in Amherst, the University of Massachusetts will try to sidestep a third in Brooklyn when they try to beat longtime rival Rhode Island in first-round Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Tournament action.
Despite being 14-17 (5-11 Atlantic 10), URI has proven troublesome for UMass so far this season. The Minutemen beat the Rams, 73-68, in Kingston on Feb. 9 and 70-67 in Amherst on Feb. 26. To advance in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, UMass will have to beat their longtime rival for the third time in 34 days. They’ll tip tonight at 9 at the Barclays Center. The winner earns a spot in Friday’s 9 p.m. quarterfinal against No. 3 seed George Washington.
“That’s been a nip-tuck game both times we’ve played them,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “They’re playing really well and they’re playing for something too. This will be a good test for us to see if we can make a little run here and get us ready to go on a nice little run in the NCAA Tournament.”
There doesn’t figure to be any surprises as both teams are familiar with each other’s strengths and tendencies.
“We were watching film today and I was thinking man we keep seeing the same people doing the same things,” UMass sophomore guard Derrick Gordon said. “Right now it’s one and done. We have no time for let-ups. We have to leave it out there on the floor. We just have to go out there and do it.”
His backcourt mate, senior Chaz Williams said the Rams have been successful at preventing UMass from getting in rhythm.
“It’s not going to be easy. We’re going to have to play like we play. It’s been close games both times we played those guys,” Williams said. “I feel like both times we’ve played them we haven’t played like we really play. It’ll be a good chance for us to play like we play. Hopefully it comes out as a victory as well.”
The Rams arrive in Brooklyn in the midst or their best stretch of 2014. They finished the season winning three of their last four, beating St. Bonaventure, Richmond and Fordham. The lone loss came against the Minutemen. Kellogg said URI hasn’t made any fundamental changes.
“There’s the same team, not in a bad way. They’re doing what they’ve done all season long. They’re a little better at it than they were the first and second time we’ve played them. They’re coming off two really good wins and a week off,” Kellogg said. “They’ll be ready to play, but we’ll be ready too. It should be a great basketball game, a hard-fought game. Hopefully we’ll come out with the win.”
Rhode Island coach Danny Hurley said UMass’ experience is an advantage.
“Derek has established a way that they want to play. They have veteran, battle-tested, obviously very good team that’s played together for a couple of years,” Hurley said. “There’ll be some adjustments, but at this point in the year its hard to change a whole lot of what you do.”
Rhode Island senior guard Xavier Munford has led the Rams in scoring all year at 16.7 points per game and he’s been even better against UMass averaging 17.5 points in two games. Freshman guard E.C. Matthews, who collected Atlantic 10 Co-Rookie of the Year honors Tuesday, has shined against the Minutemen averaging 19.0 points in the two games.
This is Rhode Island’s first time in the event since 2011 as the Rams didn’t qualify each of the past two years.
“We have no players or coaches that have ever played or coached in this tournament. This is a new experience for us. We’re excited to be in the event. We’re coming into it with zero experiences, but a lot of youthful enthusiasm,” Hurley said. We’re a young group. It’s taken them some time to get comfortable and develop some cohesion. We have improved.”
UMass vs. URI will be the last of four games. No. 8 seed La Salle and No. 9 St. Bonaventure, who earned bids to the 2012 and 2013 NCAA Tournaments respectively will try to keep their 2014 seasons alive in the noon game. They each could potentially earn bids to the NIT or College Basketball Invitational tournament with a win or two in Brooklyn.
At 2:30 p.m. No. 5 Dayton plays Fordham, which won Wednesday night’s opening-round game over George Mason, 70-67 . The Flyers are on the NCAA Tournament bubble and would likely need to avoid a bad loss Thursday to have a shot. If they do, they’ll play fellow bubble-dweller Saint Joseph’s, the No. 4 seed, Friday at 2:30 p.m.
No. 7 Richmond, has fizzled down the stretch, but with an RPI of 73, the 18-13 Spiders could certainly get an NIT or CBI invite. A win at 6:30 p.m. over No. 10 Duquesne would help their cause.
TV — The game will be on Comcast Sportsnet New England, which is picking up the NBC Sports Regional broadcast of the game. Friday’s quarterfinal games will be on NBS Sports Network. The semifinals Saturday are on CBS Sports Network and Sunday’s final is on CBS.
Reception — The UMass Alumni Association is hosting receptions prior to each UMass game at 200 Fifth. For more information go to the Alumni Association page at http://goo.gl/EN65x7.
Notes — Williams enters the Atlantic 10 Tournament needing 64 points to reach 2,000 in his career (one year at Hofstra, three years at UMass).