Minutemen defeat Rams

By Herb Scribner

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Something has inspired the Massachusetts men’s basketball team.

Whether it was from their travel issues, the 4,239 in attendance at Sunday’s game or a Gordon Bombay-like speech from UMass coach Derek Kellogg, the Minutemen (13-7, 5-2 Atlantic 10) defeated Rhode Island, 64-54, on Sunday despite heavy pressure from the Rams (13-8, 4-3 A-10).

In earlier games this season, UMass would open up a large lead before losing it and leaving the outcome to what happened in the final few minutes. Sunday’s game was a different story, as the Minutemen kept their composure on the way to another victory.

“That was a good victory for the kids,” Kellogg said. “They put together almost a complete game. I thought the guys weathered the storm well.”

In the win, UMass stayed true to its recent offensive downfall with 20-for-54 shooting from the floor, and an 8-for-26 mark from beyond the arc. Similar to other games this season, the Minutemen showed how much of an impact their bench can make, as it combined for 22 points.

Guard Anthony Gurley led the team with 21 points, seven assists and two rebounds. Gurley’s leadership was matched by Gary Correia, who led the team on both ends of the floor. His five steals and one turnover were indicative of his defensive stabilities.

The contest kept the two sides at a near deadlock for a while, with URI storming back from an early UMass run to knot the two teams closely.

“I thought the game could have gone either way for a while,” Kellogg said.

At the 14:31 mark in the second half, the Rams stole the lead from the Minutemen following a quick run that included a pair of 3-pointers.

This appeared to be the spark UMass needed, as its game play changed significantly following the deadlock. The Minutemen went out on another run, as sophomore forward Freddie Riley netted a 3-pointer to put the Minutemen up five. Even Hashim “Big City” Bailey got in on the action, as he scored a quick layup off his own steal and fast break.

“I think ‘City’ really came out and played with a high level,” Gurley said. “He was definitely a big contributor tonight and I’m proud of him.”

“Last time I did something like that was prep school, high school, something like that,” Bailey reflected on his own crowd-pleasing move.

Even Kellogg took notice of Bailey’s agile moves.

“He showed some cat-like quickness on the poke-away,” Kellogg said.

As the half continued, UMass found other ways to stay on top and increase its lead. One of the highlights of the offensive production came with three minutes remaining, when Gurley nailed a buzzer-beating, NBA-length 3-pointer to put the Minutemen up nine.

“It just comes with the flow of the game,” Gurley said. “I tried my best to get a good look, and fortunately it went down.”

“When he makes shots like that, I personally think he’s the best player in our league,” forward Javorn Farrell said.

Kellogg commented after the game that Gurley’s buzzer-beater was an indication of the level of development Gurley has seen. According to Kellogg, in years past, Gurley wouldn’t have paid as much attention to the shot clock and would have hocked up a shot without careful consideration.

“It was great to watch,” Kellogg said. “To see him make that play, it’s rewarding as a coach to see that.”

As the rest of the half dwindled down, the Minutemen kept their game together and never had to look back as their lead held up.

The first half of the contest featured a transition from fiery, fluid play to brutish, tough-nosed combat between the two sides. The Minutemen jumped out early with a 15-2 run through the first seven minutes to separate itself from its traditional rival.

Once UMass reached 20 points, URI picked up the pace and cooled off UMass with a 13-2 run of its own. UMass would have the final say going into the break after Gurley, true to style, put away a last-second shot from beyond the arc to give the Minutemen a 25-22 advantage.

The win puts the Minutemen ahead of the Rams, and it says something about where the Maroon and White are headed. The URI game isn’t the end of the road for the Minutemen, however, as they are about to start a two-game road trip against Saint Louis and Saint Joseph’s.

“It was huge for us,” Gurley said. “We know we have the opportunity to make another statement in this league.”

Herb Scribner can be reached at [email protected]