By Herb Scribner
After some tough losses, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team needed a win to keep its postseason hopes alive.
On Saturday afternoon at the Ryan Center, the Minutemen (14-11, 6-6 Atlantic 10) fought off rival Rhode Island, 66-60, to complete a series sweep against URI for this season.
“It was a much needed win for a team,” UMass Coach Derek Kellogg said after the victory. “Our guys have continued to play hard and practice hard and do some good things. To get a win will bring a little bit of happiness to our locker room [which] is good.”
The Minutemen returned to form against the Rams (16-10, 7-5 A-10) with guard Anthony Gurley (16 points, 10 rebounds, five steals) reclaiming his spot as the top point scorer for UMass. In his previous two games, Gurley was limited to single-digit scoring.
“As much as anything, I think mentally it gave us a huge boost that he was back on track a little bit,” Kellogg said. “A lot of the plays we were running for him weren’t working when he wasn’t making shots and now that he knocked a few in I thought it gave a few of other guys confidence also.”
However, Gurley wasn’t alone in production on the offensive end, as three other Minutemen joined him in double-digit scoring as forwards Sampson Carter,
Raphiael Putney and guard Gary Correia all netted 11 points.
Gurley did some hard work defensively as well with nine rebounds on the defensive end and acted as a shield that held URI to 1-for-19 shooting from beyond the arc.
“[I] know I can help my team in other ways, I’m a very versatile player,” Gurley said. “If I’m not scoring I know I can do other things.”
UMass got a lot of its work done in the second half. Heading into the second period down 31-23, it was heading towards another grim result for a team that started the season at 7-0.
However, the Minutemen went on a 23-6 run to leap over the Rams, as they outscored URI, 43-29, in the second half.
“Making shots is huge in college obviously,” Kellogg said. “Not only do you score, but also the team’s defense really picks up [and] our guys have to play a little harder.”
Much like previous games between the two rival schools, the 46-39 lead by UMass was diminished by URI’s tenacious offense which included Delroy James (15 points) and a trio of other double-digit scorers. The Minutemen caught a stroke of luck with URI missing key free throws down the stretch, which secured the victory for the Maroon and White.
“I guess we got a little nervous,” Kellogg said. “Once again we’ll have to work on our late-game situations when teams are picking up pressure and trying to deny our guys the ball.”
The 23-6 run early on in the second half was led by Putney, who scored seven-straight points during the stretch. Like the previous game against Duquesne,
Putney combined with freshman Jesse Morgan for some relief off the bench, with Morgan netting a 3-pointer to top off the run.
Putney, who scored 10 against the Dukes, continued to impress the UMass roster with his athleticism and swift scoring in games.
“He’s getting there [to his potential]. I think he’s still got a long ways to go,” Kellogg said. “There are not many guys with this athleticism at his length out there so it was nice to see him help us.”
“I think he’s just coming on as tremendous and I’m proud of the way he played tonight,” Gurley said. “It’s just good to see hard work playing off for him.”
By having Morgan and Putney coming off the bench, it seems the Minutemen have found a viable option for having one true point guard on the bench, giving Correia some rest.
“It really takes us to another level to have Jesse and Raphiael playing at the level that they are right now,” Gurley said.
Similar to previous UMass games this season, the first half was a sight to turn away from as both teams combined for 1-for-20 from beyond the arc, with the sole made 3-pointer coming from Morgan.
Carter highlighted the first half with eight points and played with a high amount of energy that impressed Kellogg.
“He at least had some energy and passion and enthusiasm and bounce to his step,” Kellogg said.
Enthusiasm and passion seemed to be a goal for all the players to reach against the Rams, as the team held a players-only meeting to help inspire the ailing Minutemen.
“We all said we just got to come together and stay strong as a family,” Gurley said.
Whether they continue to play well or struggle down the stretch, Kellogg at least wants his players to find the true meaning of the game and not get discouraged.
“Walk out there with a smile on your face, let’s enjoy, let’s at least have fun playing,” Kellogg said.
Herb Scribner can be reached at [email protected]