Rhode rage: UMass win snaps road losing streak
KINGSTON, R.I.—The comeback kids were at it again on Sunday evening.
Trailing by seven points with eight minutes, 35 seconds left, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team finished the game on an 18-6 run to seal a 73-68 win over Rhode Island in front of 6,511 fans at Ryan Center.
Senior Chaz Williams fueled the UMass comeback, scoring 11 of the team’s final 18 points and assisted on the two other field goals. He scored 13 of his team-high 21 points in the second half.
“(UMass coach Derek Kellogg) was getting on us on the sideline about the defense and making plays and we just didn’t want to lose the game,” Williams said. “So I was just trying to do anything in my power and my will trying to bring the team back.”
The win snapped a three-game road losing streak for the Minutemen (19-4, 6-3 Atlantic 10), who showed they still can’t be counted out when trailing late in a game.
“I’m very proud of the team that came today,” Kellogg said. “I thought we played really hard. (We) didn’t always do the right thing, but I thought we played a tough, hard-nosed team that played in desperation mode. … I thought we combated that and fought really hard.”
The win was sealed with a thunderous chase-down block by Raphiael Putney with 40 seconds left. Putney tracked down T.J. Buchanan and swatted his layup attempt, giving UMass the ball back and forcing the Rams (11-13, 2-7 A-10) to start fouling.
“I just couldn’t let them have that free layup,” Putney said on the block. “I had to do everything I could, so I sprinted as hard as I could and I’m known for blocking shots on the chase-down run, so I just got it and it was a great block by me.”
The game went back-and-forth throughout the entire contest, with 12 lead changes and 14 ties in the contest. The Minutemen held a slight 36-35 lead at halftime and jumped out to a 41-35 lead early in the second half before E.C. Matthews and Xavier Munford took control for the Rams.
The duo scored 26 of URI’s 33 points in the second half, making it difficult for UMass to get any stops defensively. The turning point came midway through the second half when Williams started guarding Matthews, resulting in just six Rams points in the final eight-plus minutes.
“I’m always up for the challenge, so if coach allows me to take that assignment, I’m willing to do it,” Williams said. “It’s not offensive versus offensive game. I’m not trying to go score-for-score, I’m just trying to put a stop to it.”
Maxie Esho returned on Sunday after missing Wednesday’s game versus La Salle with concussion-like symptoms, bringing energy and production on both ends of the floor.
“I thought his energy was helpful for us,” Kellogg said. “He made a couple baskets around the rim and I thought he did a nice job defending and 3-for-3 from the floor is always nice.”
It was apparent in Kellogg’s tone following the game how critical it was for UMass to win this game, especially after the Minutemen hadn’t won a road game since Jan. 18 at Elon.
“I thought that was a big time road win for us, big time road win,” he said. “So we’ll take it and go back on the bus as soon as possible and get ready for George Mason on Wednesday.”
Patrick Strohecker can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @P_Strohecker.