Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass battles back to top Rhode Island 60-56

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Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Zach Coleman arrived at the postgame press conference, stopped, and looked around.

He was flanked by his coach Derek Kellogg and two veterans Maxie Esho and Trey Davis, who have fulfilled their fair share of postgame commitments during their time with the Massachusetts men’s basketball team.

But this was all new to Coleman.

“I don’t know how this goes,” he said as he tried to grab a seat.

If he keeps playing like he did Saturday against Rhode Island, he’s bound to get the hang of it.

The redshirt freshman scored a career-high 13 points and helped UMass erase a six-point second half deficit en route to a 60-56 victory over URI at the Mullins Center.

“It was very rewarding ,” said Esho of Coleman’s play. “Right before I came out of the game I told him ‘Just hold it down.’ And he did exactly that. It was real good for him to do that.”

Coleman replaced Esho after the senior forward picked up his fourth foul with nine minutes, 15 seconds remaining.

After two URI free throws made it 46-42, Coleman answered immediately, making a layup as he was fouled. He hit the free throw to complete the 3-point-play. But the Rams extended the lead to 53-47 with 6:22 left. Minutemen center Cady Lalanne missed the front-end of a 1-and-1 free throw opportunity two different times as the lead grew.

But Coleman brought UMass back.

The Minutemen grabbed two straight offensive rebounds which set up a Coleman 3-pointer from the wing to make it 53-50. He forced a steal on the ensuing possession and dribbled the length of the floor, attempting what would’ve been a thunderous right-handed dunk.

Only he hit the front iron as a Rams defender contested it.

But Donte Clark grabbed another offensive rebound and the ball found Coleman, who was again camped on the wing, and he drained another 3-pointer. And like that, it was tied, much to the delight of the 5,273 in attendance.

“It was a great feeling,” Coleman said. “I was in the moment, and when I saw them I felt good when they left. So I wasn’t surprised with the result.”

But he wasn’t done. After Clark gave UMass the lead with the layup, Coleman extended it to two possessions, hitting a fadeaway jump shot to give the Minutemen a 57-53 lead with 3:17 remaining.

The Rams cut it to 57-56 on a Gilvydas Birutas layup with 90 seconds left. Davis missed a 3-pointer on the following UMass possession, but Esho and Lalanne grabbed two separate offensive rebounds to extend the possession. Clark hit two free throws to make it 59-56 with 15 seconds left.

URI’s E.C. Matthews fumbled the ball away to Davis on the following Rams possession and the Minutemen walked away with a victory.

“I thought we made some plays down the stretch to come away with the win,” Kellogg said. “It was nice to see some different guys make some big plays for us.”

While Coleman starred in the second half, it was Esho who kept UMass within striking distance.

He scored a game-high 18 points while grabbing six rebounds and registering three blocks in 23 minutes. He often went toe-to-toe with URI forward Hassan Martin (13 points, four blocks) and single-handedly kept UMass’ offense in the game.

“Maxie carried us in the first half,” Kellogg said. “Zach carried us for that stretch and I thought Trey played a nice solid game as far as not turning the ball over.”

It was UMass’ seventh straight victory over the Rams. The Minutemen beat URI three different times last season in similarly tight affairs.

Clark (10 points) was the only other UMass player to score in double-figures. Lalanne finished with four points and 10 rebounds. URI guard E.C. Matthews, who averaged 17.7 points per game entering Saturday, was held to 11 points.

But UMass dominated Rhode Island on the offensive glass, grabbing 18 offensive rebounds and scoring 18 second chance points.

Yet Kellogg said the play of his Coleman and Esho decided the game.

“The one thing is, to get 31 points and seven rebounds from (Coleman and Esho) in 37 minutes, I think was huge for us tonight,” he said. “That was the difference in the game.”

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.

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