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Minutemen face third-straight tough opponent in URI

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team will complete what coach Derek Kellogg considers the toughest three-game stretch in his coaching career at UMass on Saturday against Rhode Island.

UMass (8-14, 2-6 Atlantic 10) is coming off two straight losses where it shrunk the deficit in the second half, but couldn’t hold onto the lead. On Jan. 30, the Minutemen went on a 10-3 run against Charlotte until the 49ers went on a tear of their own and kept a convincing lead for the rest of the game.

The Maroon and White had a similar result against Xavier on Wednesday, when it erased a 17-point deficit at halftime to take the lead with just over four minutes to play. However, guard Jordan Crawford would not let his team go away easily, and hit back-to-back 3-pointers as the Musketeers held on for the win.

The Minutemen now head to Kingston, R.I., to face the overall winningest team in the A-10. The Rams (18-3, 6-2 A-10) have the highest winning percentage (.857) in the conference, with a two-point loss to Virginia Commonwealth being the only defeat outside their A-10 schedule.

They also have one of the best home-court advantages in the country with a 9-1 record.

Kellogg knows it will be tough to defeat a team that has had such a high level of success this season on the road, but he’s hoping the effort against Xavier will carry over into Saturday.

“We showed some character once again that we’re not going to go down without swinging and now we’ve got to be the team that hits the first time instead of waiting to take the blows,” Kellogg said.

URI’s main strength is its maturity. Despite having five freshmen, the Rams’ entire lineup is upperclassmen. They are also challenging because of their willingness to be aggressive on defense with their press.

“They’re an older, more mature team and they play a unique style,” Kellogg said. “They press the whole game, they try to play up and down and they’ve really nestled into being comfortable in how they want to play.” 

URI’s two conference losses were to No. 19 Temple on Jan. 10 and Xavier on Jan. 23. Since then, the Rams have been on a three-game winning streak and could be one of five or six teams from the A-10 to make the NCAA Tournament.

“They’re a team that’s really been a surprise nationally with how good they’ve played and how good they’ve been record-wise,” Kellogg said.

URI is led by senior guard Keith Cothran (16.1 points per game), who has given UMass problems in the past. At the Mullins Center last season, he finished the game with 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting to go with three steals.

The Rams went on to win that game, 71-59. However, if last year is any reason to be encouraged as to how the Minutemen might do away from the Mullins Center, they only have to look at last season’s contest at the Ryan Center on March 7, 2009.

With 6.5 seconds left in the game, Chris Lowe left a memorable impression during his last regular season game and went the length of the court to score with .6 seconds left.

Lowe finished the game with 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting while adding seven assists in the effort.

Game notes:

The Rams have beaten all three teams they’ve played with head coaches who spent time at UMass (Boston College, Oklahoma State and Drexel). All three wins came between Dec. 13 and Jan 2.

Adam Miller can be reached at amiller@dailycollegian.com.

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