UMass basketball closes regular season with victory at URI

By Stephen Hewitt

KINGSTON, R.I. After Thursday night’s loss against Butler, Massachusetts men’s basketball point guard Chaz Williams said he had a long talk with senior guard Freddie Riley.

“I told him we’re gonna need him to step up and do the things he does for us to be successful,” Williams said.

Message received.

Stephen Sellner/Collegian

For the third time this season, Riley tied a career-high with six 3-pointers as he helped the Minutemen (19-10, 9-7 Atlantic 10) quickly erase the memory of Thursday night’s defeat by coming away with a much-needed 75-66 win against Rhode Island (8-21, 3-13 A-10) in front of 4,869 at the Ryan Center on Saturday afternoon.

Riley hit six triples, but none bigger than his last with five minutes, 52 seconds left in the game, when he canned an off-balanced corner 3-pointer with a defender in his face that gave UMass a 62-55 lead and forced Rams coach Danny Hurley to call timeout.

Although URI cut its deficit back to two shortly thereafter, the shot proved to be a knockout blow as the Minutemen made their free throws down the stretch and held the Rams to just six points over the final five minutes of regulation to finish the regular season with a win.

“That was like a J.R. Smith type shot,” Williams said in reference to the New York Knicks sharpshooter. “Just stare down at the floor and raise up over the guy.”

It wasn’t just Riley – who finished with 18 points – who took over, as Williams also delivered an impressive performance. He finished with 20 points – 15 of which came in the second half – to go along with his 10 assists. Williams’ scoring outburst was his first double-digit scoring performance since a Feb. 20 loss to St. Bonaventure.

Williams was more aggressive on Saturday, which mostly played to his and the team’s benefit, but it almost came back to cost the Minutemen late in the game.

With 2:47 to go and UMass up by five, Williams blocked URI guard Xavier Munford’s jumper and he was immediately whistled for a technical foul after taunting Munford. But Munford failed to capitalize on the opportunity to get the Rams back to within a possession as he missed both free throws.

URI never got closer as UMass dodged a bullet and pulled away.

“It’s one of those things where you want guys to play and compete and have a little edge, but you don’t want them to get technicals,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “It’s a double-edged sword, but I wasn’t too mad about it today.”

Despite having nothing to play for by being eliminated from postseason contention, the Rams started hot and led for most of the first half, including a five-point advantage behind the play of Munford and Andre Malone, who finished with 21 and 19 points, respectively.

But the Minutemen stayed within striking distance and took their first lead of the game on a Riley triple with 8:15 left in the half. They went on to take a 37-33 lead into halftime after Williams raced down court in less than four seconds and banked in a running 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Less than 48 hours after being totally dominated on the glass by Butler, UMass outrebounded URI 40-26, including grabbing 11 offensive boards. Cady Lalanne finished with a career-high 15 rebounds and gave the Minutemen valuable second-chance opportunities down the stretch.

“(Against Butler), he kind of got physically beat up a little bit, he didn’t go after balls the way I expect him to,” Kellogg said. “It was nice to see him make some plays today and get some rebounds.”

UMass now moves on to next week’s A-10 tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., which begins Thursday. After their win Saturday, the Minutemen can finish no lower than seventh in the A-10 standings, but can get the sixth seed if Butler beats Xavier on Saturday night.

Stephen Hewitt can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.