Just when the Massachusetts men’s basketball team could use a win to pick up its spirit, it heads to Rhode Island to take on its highly competitive rival.
This will be the 136th meeting between the sides, the longest series in UMass basketball history. Since the rivalry’s beginning in 1908, the Minutemen hold a 78-57 advantage over the Rams, including a 64-54 victory earlier this season on Jan. 30.
“Every game we’ve played them has been a nail-biter, a down-to-the-wire [game] except for one here or there,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “I think the people in the area [and] kids on both teams realize that this is a game.”
In the last 11 contests between the two sides, six have been decided by three or fewer points. This includes the 2009-10 regular season conclusion that saw then-senior Ricky Harris score a layup with 3.5 seconds left to push the Minutemen (13-11, 5-6 Atlantic 10) into the A-10 tournament.
Last season’s epic conclusion was one of the 34 games that UMass has won against URI (16-9, 7-4 A-10) in the last 47 meetings. This includes series sweeps in 2000, 2001, 2005 and 2008, which is something the Minutemen will look to do again on Saturday.
Conversely, URI leads the series in games played in Kingston, R.I., with a 35-28 edge over the Minutemen. As far as playing in the Ryan Center, which opened in the 2002-03 season, the teams have split the eight games competed inside.
Kellogg’s record against the Rams as a coach stands at 3-2, while as a player, he went 9-1 between 1992-1995.
With the season winding down and both teams in the thick of the action for A-10 playoff spots, the rivalry is sure to be raised to another level, as fans from both sides will look to give their team the edge.
Kellogg explained that last season the fans even gave his wife Nicole a hard time.
“She’s bringing Max [their son] with her this time in case there’s any trouble,” Kellogg said. “Last year they were on her a little bit. I don’t know if they knew she was my wife or not.”
Other than heckling, the URI fans are surely going to be out to get at UMass seeing as the game that took place at the Mullins Center had a heavy amount of Minutemen fans, drowning out any URI attendees.
“When you go there, to hear how the fans respond to you, you know there is a rivalry and guys are working to get better,” Kellogg said.
Guard Gary Correia, who hails from Providence, R.I., called the URI fans “crazy.” Despite how he may feel about the fans’ reaction to the game, Correia can raise his head high as he is 5-2 against the Rams since he’s joined the Maroon and White.
“I just want to have that hanging over their heads, knowing I won more than I lost against their guys,” Correia said. “[It] would be nice to end my career that way.”
Correia’s ties to URI date back to being a sophomore at his high school, Northfield Mount Hermon School, where the Rams offered him a scholarship to play for them after he graduated.
Although the senior still thanks URI coach Jim Baron for giving him the opportunity, he admitted he is currently playing for the right team.
“I decided to go a different direction and I’m happy where I’m at and happy with the team and I just want to finish my career out well,” Correia said.
Correia played well against George Washington last Saturday, posting 15 points in the 59-51 loss. Most recently against the Dukes, however, Correia made couldn’t repeat the impact performance, putting up four points and four assists.
Kellogg and the rest of the Minutemen will look to have their starting point guard amp up his game at URI, where Correia said his family would be watching him play.
With four regular season games (two home, two away) after the URI contest, UMass will surely be competing to a higher degree as it takes on its rival on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Herb Scribner can be reached at [email protected]