AMHERST — It was the kind of butt-whooping performance UMass basketball hadn’t visited on an opponent in a good long while. Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley made sure to call upon that same imagery in his postgame remarks.
The Minutemen doubled their 10-point halftime lead with the first 10 points of the second half Wednesday night and Rhode Island never got closer than 13 points thereafter, as UMass piled it on late for an 81-53 Atlantic 10 Conference rout of the Rams before 4,124 at the Mullins Center.
Chaz Williams fired in a season-high 27 points, just two off his career high, with eight assists and UMass (15-6, 5-3 A-10) spread the load behind Terrell Vinson (13 points), Cady Lalanne (11) and Maxie Esho (10). The Minutemen also doubled the margin of their previous largest win of the season, a 14-pointer over Eastern Michigan on Jan. 5, and posted their most lopsided victory over URI since a 78-46 win Jan. 30, 2001 in Providence.
Williams and Vinson each hit three 3-pointers, part of the Minutemen’s 9-of-19 effort from beyond the arc. UMass made its night comfortable by stringing together runs of 11, 10, 10 and nine points.
Xavier Munford scored 15 of his team-high 22 points in the first half for Rhode Island (6-15, 1-7 A-10), including a 3-pointer at the buzzer after the game clock was reset with 0.8 seconds left. That pulled the Rams to within 41-31.
It’s taken until the 21st game of the season for UMass to come out of the halftime locker room firing, and the Minutemen didn’t waste any time, getting an opening jumper by Freddie Riley, an inside basket by Vinson and back-to-back treys by Williams. That made it 51-31 just 2
1/2 minutes into the second half.
URI hit back with seven straight points and kept as close as 13 before UMass strung together 10 more in a row, including five points by Williams, a 3-pointer by Esho and a slam by Lalanne, to go up 67-44 with 8:13 remaining.
“I thought it was a good complete game for our team,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg. “It was great to come out and play well to start the second half. That was the best start to a half we’ve had all year.
“They made a run, they cut it to 13, and TV (Vinson) hit a three right in front of the bench to get it up to 16. That was our punch back after they hit us a few times.”
The Minutemen finished with a flourish, scoring the game’s last nine points to take their lead from 19 up to 28.
“We knew we were in trouble from the start. They were in attack mode and really locked in,” said Hurley. “For the first time this year, we were non-competitive. We got outplayed and got our butts kicked from when we stepped on the court.”
Andre Malone was the only other Ram player in double figures, with 10 points and seven rebounds. Mike Powell added eight points.
For a team with an average winning margin of 5.4 points in their previous 14 victories, the Minutemen were glad to get a laugher for a change, with home dates still looming against the likes of Saint Joseph’s (Saturday at 2 p.m.), Temple, Dayton and Butler.
“It was great. We need to stop playing so many close games, so we can get some rest,” said Riley. “We don’t have a lot of guys. We need to get as much rest as we can.”
Early on, the Minutemen created some space from a 21-21 tie with 11 consecutive points, kick-started by a Williams layup and 3-pointer. Vinson hit a trey of his own and Williams completed an old-fashioned 3-point play for a 32-21 lead with just under five minutes to go in
the half. The Minutemen thought they’d get off the floor ahead by 13, before the officials reviewed the video and put 0.8 seconds back on the clock, enough time for an inbounds pass that freed Munford for a left-wing trey at the buzzer.
UMass shot 52 percent from the field, held Rhode Island to 33 percent, including 7-of-30 from 3-point range, and held a 38-27 rebounding advantage.