The Massachusetts men’s basketball team has finally shown that it’s capable of dominating an inferior team.
UMass (15-6, 5-3 Atlantic 10) rode a 27-point, 8-assist clinic by Chaz Williams to rout Rhode Island, 81-53, Wednesday night in front of 4,124 at the Mullins Center.
The 28-point win marks the Minutemen’s largest margin of victory this season and their most one-sided win over the Rams (6-15, 1-7 A-10) since Jan. 30, 2001 when they crushed URI, 78-46.
The lopsided victory is fresh off back-to-back one-point affairs for UMass against Charlotte and La Salle. Freddie Riley (eight points) said that the team stressed coming out and putting a team away so they could get some rest, especially with a roster withered by the injuries of Jesse Morgan and Javorn Farrell, and an academically ineligible Izzy Freeman.
“I told everybody that we needed to stop playing so many close games so we can get some rest,” Riley said. “We don’t have a lot of guys, so we need to get as much rest as we can.”
Williams’ 27 points was a season-high, as he finished 9-of-14 from the field, 3-for-5 from 3-point land and a perfect 6-for-6 from the charity stripe.
Williams’ presence was felt all over the floor. When he wasn’t knocking down shots, he was leading the fast break — an area that the Minutemen dominated, 12-0, over the Rams.
But if you ask Williams, he isn’t satisfied with his performance.
“I felt like today was an all-around OK game for me,” he said. “I still feel like I can play better.”
Holding a 41-31 lead at halftime, UMass broke out of its typical lack-luster spells coming out of the break with a 10-0 burst to open up a 51-31 advantage. Baskets by Freddie Riley and Terrell Vinson, followed by a pair of triples by Williams were what put URI away.
The Rams followed with a 7-0 spurt to cut the deficit to 13, tempting UMass coach Derek Kellogg to call a timeout. Instead, he waited until after Terrell Vinson buried an open three in front of the bench with 14 minutes, two seconds left in the second half to push the lead back to 16 and stem the tide.
“That was kind of our punch back after they hit us a few times,” Kellogg said.
Vinson finished with 13 points and five rebounds, while Cady Lalanne chipped in with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting to go along with six boards. Maxie Esho added 10 points off the bench.
Xavier Munford was a one-man show for URI in an otherwise poor shooting performance. Munford dropped 22 points, but only managed seven in the second half on 2-of-10 shooting in the frame. The Rams shot 21.4 percent in the second half after a 46.2 percent pace in the opening 20 minutes.
The Minutemen now enter a grueling stretch in conference play, starting with a test against preseason A-10 favorite Saint Joseph’s on Saturday afternoon. The game will be broadcasted nationally on ESPN2 for a 2 p.m. tip-off.
Following the Hawks, UMass travels to Virginia Commonwealth (tied for first in the A-10) on Feb. 14 and hosts Temple on Feb. 16.
When speaking after the game, Kellogg lobbied for the fans to come out and support the team on Saturday, even with the snowstorm that is expected to hit the Amherst area this weekend.
“Everybody said they want us to play a first class schedule. We’ve done that, and now I think we need the fans to make sure they come out, especially the students,” Kellogg said. “A two o’clock game on Saturday against St. Joe’s on national television — put your snow boots on, put your skis on and come on down. I think it’s a great opportunity for them to come watch great basketball.”
Stephen Sellner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @Stephen_Sellner.