For the second straight game, the Massachusetts basketball team could not overcome a steep halftime deficit in order to defeat a conference opponent.
The Minutemen (8-15, 2-7 Atlantic 10) fell to Rhode Island (19-3, 7-2 A-10) Saturday afternoon, 93-85, as UMass scored 21 points in the final three minutes, 45 seconds to pull within six points with under a minute to go in the game, but could not come up with their second A-10 road victory.
UMass’ 85 points were its most scored in a loss so far this season.
“I thought we obviously turned the ball over a few too many times in the first half, 17 times, and didn’t shoot the free throws too well,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said.
UMass turned the ball over 21 times, including five from senior guard Ricky Harris, who led all scorers with and had a season-high 32 points. Harris went 9-of-11 from the charity stripe, but the team shot just 58.6 percent from the line.
“There were four or five occasions when we had three-point plays and five-point plays, we missed a one-and-one, they came down and hit threes and where we didn’t box out on the free-throw, they hit another three, so, a lot of inexperienced plays by some of our guys that were rectified at halftime, and I thought we gave it a yeoman’s effort to come back and make the game interesting,” Kellogg said.
Redshirt junior forward Anthony Gurley was held scoreless for the first 36 minutes of the game, but exploded for 15 points in the final three and half minutes, but it was too little too late for the Minutemen. Gurley went 5-of-9 from the field and 4-of-5 from the free-throw line, but also committed four turnovers in the loss.
“He made a few plays in the first half that were very unlike Anthony, and I felt like giving him a little time on the bench would get him going, and he came back and played very well,” Kellogg said. “I mean we can’t have him not play the way he did at the end for a whole game, I don’t think we have enough fire power, and we’re not good enough.”
Along with Gurley and Harris, Sean Carter had 11 points, while freshmen Freddie Riley and Terrell Vinson added seven and 10 points, respectively.
The Minutemen continued to hold the advantage against the opponents on the boards, outrebounding the Rams 45-35, with freshman Javorn Farrell and Carter grabbing eight a piece. UMass also shot the ball well, shooting almost 50 percent for the game.
“We’re still a work in progress, there were some good signs by some different guys, and if you don’t turn the ball over 17 times or 21 times for the game, and go 17-for-29 from the free-throw line, I think you at least have a chance to be in the ball game, against a really good Rhode Island team,” Kellogg said.
Harris’ play started at point guard, as the Rams had a press defense that caused a number of turnovers for the Minutemen.
“Its funny – when he presses less and doesn’t try to score, he scores more, and he did that in the second half against Xavier and in the second half [here],” Kellogg said. “He’s starting to nestle into that role as the leader of this team. Unfortunately we’re pretty far into the season, but I think we can make a late run from here and see if we can do some things.”
Harris scored 15 points in the second half and did not turn the ball over in the final 20 minutes of the game.
The Rams were led by Akeem Richmond, who scored 19 points off the bench for URI, while Lamonte Ulmer added 17 on 7-of-8 shooting. URI scored 19 points off of turnovers, while the Minutemen converted 11, and the Rams scored 16 points on fast breaks.
“I guess the stats don’t lie, they pretty much tell the story of the game,” Kellogg said.
The Minutemen have lost three-straight and will take on Duquesne Thursday, Feb. 11 in Pittsburgh, Pa.
David Brinch can be reached at email@example.com.