Minutemen fall short against Rams

For The Recorder
Tuesday, January 30, 2018

AMHERST — For a moment, the Mullins Center held its collective breath. Down two with less than 2 seconds left, Luwane Pipkins had the ball in his hands after he intentionally missed the second free throw.

The referees caucused briefly, allowing the UMass fans to collectively hope the whistle was for a Rhode Island foul. Not so. It was a lane violation on Pipkins, giving the Rams the ball. URI launched the inbound pass long as time ran out to secure its 85-83 win.

There was a lot to like about UMass, but not enough to pull off an upset as the Minuteman losing streak (five games) and Rhode Island’s winning streak (13) were both extended Tuesday at the William D. Mullins Center.

Minuteman coach Matt McCall emphasized that the result trumped the improved effort and that the overall state of his team needed to improve.

“The standard is not to lose by two or 20 or 30 or 12. The standard is to win,” McCall said. “If each and every guy on the team could go back and replay the game in their head, there was one more opportunity to make a play. They could pick one or two more plays they could have made and they didn’t.”

URI, which had led by as many as 14, held an 82-73 edge with 1:31 left, but the Minutemen, who hadn’t been within double figures that late in four games, made a push. C.J. Anderson had six of his 15 points in the final 84 seconds. After Jeff Dowtin (19 points, 10 assists) made one of two free throws with 31 seconds left, Anderson missed a jumper, and Pipkins missed a 3-pointer, but both times UMass came out of the scrum with offensive rebounds and Pipkins (27 points) knocked down a 3-pointer with 10.1 seconds left to make it 84-82.

On the URI inbound following a UMass timeout, there was contact between Jared Terrell (21 points) and Pipkins. The UMass guard fell to the ground. In a split second, the referees had to decide whether he was pushed to the ground or tried to draw a charge. No whistle, no call, and moments later Rayshawn Miller fouled Garrett, who made just one of two free throws to make it 85-82.

McCall said Pipkins tried to put himself in position to take a charge.

“If there’s an opportunity to take a hit and fall, 100 percent (do it). It happened against BYU. Same thing, no call. If we’re in the that situation, we’ll do the same thing again,” McCall said. “You’re talking about officials there who have called Final Fours. That’s one of the best crews we’ve had all year.”

Rhode Island hounded UMass in the backcourt just enough to force the Minutemen to take time off the clock, then fouled Pipkins with 1.8 seconds left to prevent him from trying a 3-pointer.

After making the first free throw, McCall told his sophomore guard to forgo the normal dribble before a free throw, launch it at the rim and then go and get it. Pipkins did exactly that, but rules prevent him from crossing the free-throw line until the ball hits the rim. He left a little early.

“We call it kamikaze,” McCall said. “We tried to catch them off guard.”

Malik Hines added 18 points and six rebounds for UMass.

UMass won the opening tip and came out energized. Led by Pipkins and Carl Pierre (16 points), the Minutemen opened a 25-12 lead when Khalea Turner-Morris dropped a hook shoot in the lane with 12:48 left.

The early barrage seemed to splash water in the Rams’ face. They answered with a 21-2 surge to lead 33-27 with 6:52 left in the half. Pipkins responded with his own 7-1 run, then had a chance to tie the score but missed the second free throw, leading UMass down one at 35-34 with 3:31.

Jeff Dowtin hit back-to-back 3-pointers to keep URI in control, but the Pipkins shook a defender and buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key right to beat the halftime buzzer to give the Minutemen momentum despite trailing 44-41.

UMass (10-13, 3-7 Atlantic 10) hosts Dayton, Saturday at 2 p.m.

“I was proud of our effort. It started in practice. We had two of the best practices we’ve had in a long, long time,” McCall said. “We scored 83 points against one of the best defensive teams in the country. Offensively I thought we were good. Defensively we have to get a whole lot better. … I was proud of our fight and proud we didn’t quit. But the difference between winning and losing is one play here or there.”