Minutemen look to extend winning streak

  • Rhode Island guard EC Matthews is healthy again and averaging more than 14 points per game, something the Minutemen will have to be aware of if they hope to extend their winning streak tonight. AP File Photo

For The Recorder
Tuesday, January 16, 2018

AMHERST — To extend its three-game winning streak and the positive momentum surrounding it, UMass will have to beat its toughest opponent of the season in one of the toughest environments it will play all year.

The Minutemen (10-8, 3-2 Atlantic 10) are at Rhode Island (13-3, 5-0), Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Ryan Center.

While much of the A-10 is jumbled, the Rams have won their first five league games and are on an eight-game winning streak. They’re second among teams in The Associated Press Top 25’s also receiving votes, making them the de facto No. 27 team in the country.

UMass coach Matt McCall thought the combination of location and Rhode Island’s talent made this game the toughest on UMass’ schedule. He said making good decisions was critical.

“You can’t turn the ball over or take bad shots or get shots blocked at the rim,” McCall said. “We have to make sure we take good care of the ball and get good quality shots and not take quick shots and let them get out on the break. If you get those five guys flying at you in transition offense, they’re really hard to guard.”

Luwane Pipkins, who was the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week after averaging 35.5 points per game last week, said the Minutemen can’t be intimidated.

“With their pressure and their aggressiveness we just have to play to our identity,” he said. “We have to go right at them because they’re going to go right at us. We have to fight fire with fire.”

Pipkins’ recent heroics have been largely necessary because the Minutemen needed to erase double-digit second-half deficits. He said they can’t let themselves get into that position again.

“Rhode Island is not going to pick their foot up at all. We have to come out, have a good first half and in the second half we have to do what we’ve been doing,” he said. “This is probably the toughest one we’ve played all year. We have something to prove. We have to take it to them.”

All three teams who’ve beaten Rhode Island — Virginia, Nevada and Alabama — have been ranked at one point or another this season. The Rams boast wins over Providence and Seton Hall in nonconference play, and opened A-10 action with wins over George Mason, La Salle, George Washington, Saint Louis and St. Bonaventure.

URI is undefeated at the Ryan Center at 10-0.

Senior guard Jared Terrell leads the Rams at 17.6 points per game. Fellow senior E.C. Matthews (14.2 ppg) is healthy again after missing six games earlier this year with a wrist injury.

The game pits the league’s second- and third-ranked assist leaders as UMass’ C.J. Anderson averages 5.6 per game while Jeff Dowtin is at 5.3.

UMass fans are familiar with senior Andre Berry. URI coach Dan Hurley has used the 6-foot-8, 275-pound big man to try to neutralize Rashaan Holloway’s size advantage in the past.

But Holloway’s indefinite suspension continues. He won’t play against URI. Berry on the other hand has emerged as a weapon for the Rams. He’s averaging 11.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in conference play (9.8 and 4.4, respectively, overall).