UMass gets by URI
UMass big man Cady Lalanne (25) steals the ball awy from URI's Jordan Hare (4) during first-half action of the host Minutemen's 70-67 A-10 men's basketball win over the visiting Rams Wednesday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst.
Recorder/J. Anthony Roberts
UMass guard Derrick Gordon (2) launches up a 3-pointer over URI's Jonathan Nazarko (22) during the first half.
Recorder/J. Anthony Roberts
AMHERST — In their drive toward their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 16 years, the UMass Minutemen have hit a few bumps over the last month. Wednesday’s final seconds enabled them to avoid a gaping late February pothole.
Derrick Gordon broke a 64-64 tie with a basket with 1:36 left and Chaz Williams and Trey Davis each calmly dropped two free throws in the final 24 seconds to boost UMass past Rhode Island, 70-67, in Atlantic 10 Conference basketball before 6,234 at the Mullins Center.
Williams’ two freebies put UMass (22-5, 9-4 A-10) ahead 68-65 with 24.4 seconds left. The Minutemen denied the Rams a good look at a potential tying 3-pointer and URI’s Xavier Munford drove right of the lane, but Cady Lalanne was credited with a block to spring the ball loose from Munford and it ended up in Davis’ hands. Davis added two more at the 3.7-second mark to offset a driving layup at the buzzer by the Rams’ E.C. Matthews, and UMass managed not to squander the considerable forward momentum created by Friday night’s pulsating home win over Virginia Commonwealth.
Williams scored 16 points to lead the Minutemen, moving to within one point of Donald Russell for eighth place on UMass’ all-time career scoring list with 1,557. Davis had 13 off the bench and Sampson Carter added 11, with Gordon (10 rebounds) and Lalanne each contributing nine.
Rhode Island (12-17, 3-11 A-10) was paced by Gilvydas Biruta’s 17 points and eight rebounds. Munford added 16 points despite 7-of-18 shooting, Matthews had 14 and Hassan Martin 13 for the Rams.
“Our guys showed some great character down the end,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg. “Right now every game is important; it was a game we needed after a hard-fought win (Friday), and we were gonna be pretty happy. We’ve done pretty well in the last three minutes of games.”
In the teams’ first meeting Feb. 9 in Kingston, UMass needed an 18-6 run over the final 8 1/2 minutes to overturn a seven-point deficit, scoring a 73-68 victory over the Rams. This time, Rhody flew to an early 21-8 lead with eight minutes to go in the first half, at the end of an 11-0 run, before the Minutemen finally stabilized their offense and rallied to take a 31-30 lead by the break.
UMass didn’t even score a field goal for nearly the first five minutes until Maxie Esho’s wing jumper with 15:04 to go. Prior to that, the Minutemen missed their first eight shots from the floor and turned the ball over three times.
Martin got Rhody’s big run started with a pair of dunks and Munford added a trey and layup. Gordon’s basket with 7:50 left finally put UMass in double figures, trailing 21-10. Carter and Davis then hit back with 3-pointers to get the Minutemen going, and Gordon finally tied it at 26 with 1-of-2 free throws. Davis knocked down a triple with 54 seconds to go to put UMass up 31-28, before Matthews scored on the Rams’ final possession to make it a one-point game at the half.
From the locker room, UMass then put together its best sustained stretch of the night to begin the second half. A pair of dunks by Raphiael Putney sandwiched around a Carter free throw and a 3-point shot by Williams made it 39-30 less than two minutes in, forcing a Rams timeout. The visitors then slowly reeled in the Minutemen, who managed only two field goals over the next eight minutes.
Munford’s layup with 6:57 to play tied the game at 54-54 and Jarelle Reischel made a foul shot to put the Rams back in front. Rhody led by as many as four, 60-56, before two at the line by Putney and a basket by Gordon retied it.
Lalanne stepped to the line twice and made all four free throws for a 64-62 UMass lead at the 2:44 mark, before T.J. Buchanan hit two of his own for a 64-64 tie, setting up the frantic last two minutes. In all, UMass went 21-of-31 at the line, including 10-of-12 in the game’s last 4:38.
“We didn’t defend great, we gave them a lot of non-contested plays,” said Kellogg. “We hit the boards pretty hard, a plus-13 rebounding advantage, and we shot 31 free throws. It’s good to see the stuff you run in practice have value in the game.”
Rhode Island shot an even 50 percent from the field to UMass’ 39 percent, but the Minutemen heated up to 58 percent after halftime and owned the rebounding 41-28.
UMass next hits the road for a pair, Saturday at 11 a.m. against Dayton and then Wednesday at 7 p.m. against Duquesne in Pittsburgh. The Minutemen wrap up their regular season March 9 at 2 p.m. against 10th-ranked Saint Louis at the Mullins Center.