Slow first half dooms UMass men’s basketball in loss to URI Thursday

By Andrew Cyr

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

KINGSTON, R.I. –– To say the Massachusetts men’s basketball team got off to a slow start would have been a disservice to how poorly it played in the opening 20 minutes Thursday night.

It wasn’t bad half for UMass (12-17, 5-12 Atlantic 10) – it was a disaster.

The Minutemen shot just 5-of-26 (19.2 percent) in the first half, including 1-of-10 shooting from behind the 3-point arc as they totaled just 12 points, as UMass fell to Rhode Island 68-50 at Ryan Center.

The Minutemen didn’t score their first point until eight minutes, nine seconds into the game when Rashaan Holloway cut the deficit to 11-2.

“I wasn’t real pleased with how the first half went. I thought we started off halfway decent, but it seemed like we didn’t score the basketball for the first 20 minutes of the game. That was a little tough for us to overcome,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said.

“Any time you have 12 points in the first half, it’s surprising, or disappointing. I wanted to give ourselves a chance. I figured we’d make a run in the second half at some point but it was just too much, especially on the road,” Kellogg added.

With URI (17-13, 9-8 A-10) holding an 11-4 lead, the Rams went on to outscore the Minutemen 23-4 over the next 7:35 after Kuran Iverson hit a jumper and Nicola Akele hit back-to-back 3-pointers to extend the lead to 34-8 with 2:48 remaining in the half.

Iverson dominated the first half scoring 12 of his 13 points in the first 20 minutes, along with a game-high 12 rebounds.

The Rams assisted on 11 of their 13 baskets in the first half and 16 of their 23 for the game.

“It’s frustrating, but you’ve got to find a way to get back into the game.” UMass guard Jabarie Hinds said about playing from behind the entire game.

Neither team did much to open the game, as it remained scoreless for the first 4:04 before Jarvis Garrett dumped the ball down to a cutting Earl Watson for the dunk. URI scored 11 points before UMass recorded a bucket.

The lone bright spot of the game for the Minutemen came at the beginning of the second half when they went on a 12-0 run after Antwan Space’s 3-pointer finally jumpstarted UMass’ offense.

The Minutemen extended their defense to a full-court press at the time, forcing the Rams to commit three turnovers and miss three shots during the stretch.

“I was trying to speed the game up. When they got into a rhythm in the first half they were much more effective. We sped them up a little bit and we made a good run,” Kellogg said.

“I thought we were going to bring it all the way back, for real,” UMass guard Donte Clark added. “I’m not exactly sure what happened for them to go back up (as much as they did).”

Holloway led UMass with 11 points off the bench in 17 minutes, as Clark followed closely behind with 10 of his own.

Hinds finished with eight points on 3-of-16 shooting and Trey Davis added seven points on a 1-for-6 shooting night.

Kellogg said Holloways was one of the few positives the Minutemen could dwell upon as they face a quick turnaround with La Salle coming to Mullins Center Saturday night for UMass’ regular season finale.

“It gives us something to look forward to Saturday and into the tournament. It’s something not a ton of teams in the league have, a big guy you can throw the ball into. I was trying to give him as many minutes in that run as I could. It looked like he got tired and they went on a little short burst there and it went from 10-15 pretty quickly. We have to keep and eye on how long he can go,” Kellogg said.

If the Minutemen lose to the Explorers Saturday, it will guarantee a bottom-four seed in the A-10 tournament and UMass will play in the opening round Wednesday.

Andrew Cyr can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.