UMass men’s basketball’s late comeback falls short after blowing 15-point first-half lead

By Andrew Cyr

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(Jong Man Kim/Daily Collegian)

KINGSTON, R.I. –– With one minute, 14 seconds left to play Sunday, it looked as if all hope was lost for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team. UMass had blown a 15-point first-half lead, and trailed by 10 after URI’s E.C. Matthews put on a clinic for all 6,202 in attendance at the Thomas M. Ryan Center.

But after fouling to preserve the clock, UMass clawed its way back and trailed by only three with 13 seconds remaining. Luwane Pipkins’s 3-pointer went halfway down the rim only before bouncing out into the hands of Rams’ guard Jared Terrell to end the Minutemen’s hope of a miraculous comeback.

Sunday’s 79-77 loss for UMass (11-7, 1-4 Atlantic 10) was the fourth in its first five games of conference play after starting the season with a 10-3 record.

“I thought that was a typical Rhode Island-UMass game,” Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg said.  “Hard fought game that somewhat came down to the wire.”

“They made a few more plays than us down the stretch and a couple really tough shots that E.C. made I thought gave them a little separation.”

After DeJon Jarreau (15 points, nine assists) gave UMass a 60-58 lead with just over eight minutes to play, Matthews responded with an impressive layup over a herd of Minutemen defenders to tie the game just before the media timeout.

Matthews would then go on to make his next four shots en route to 16 second-half points as the Rams never trailed after a Terrell free throw with 7:11 remaining.

“I just feel like we need to learn; like when we are up, how to control the game because we were up what, 16 or something like that?” Donte Clark said. “We just have to learn to take care of the lead when we are up.”

After the Matthews barrage, shooting 7-for-8 in the second half and 10-of-14 overall, URI missed seven of its eight free throw attempts in the final 1:01 that allowed the Minutemen to creep back into the game.

Five points from Jarreau and a pair of free throws from Clark made it a single possession game, but UMass ran out of time and momentum after Pipkins’ missed 3-pointer.

“I like this team,” Kellogg said. “We’re coming around. We’re so close but we still have a little way to go. I think as we get better and learn how to play we can compete with anybody.”

The Minutemen looked to have taken a significant step forward after the Dayton game as their lead extended to 15 after a Malik Hines layup with 5:32 remaining in the first half.

URI coach Dan Hurley was then forced to go back to center Hassan Martin with two fouls after he picked up two quick ones 2:35 into the game. A Martin block on his first possession sparked an 11-2 run which saw UMass’ lead shrink to 38-34 at half.

Rashaan Holloway led the Minutemen with 20 points and seven rebounds and is quickly becoming one of the A-10’s best interior players. Three other UMass players finished in double digits with Clark and Pipkins adding 12 and 10 points respectively.

Matthews led URI (11-6, 3-2 A-10) with 22 points while Martin added 17. Jeff Dowtin added 11 points in place of Rams starting point guard Jarvis Garrett (illness) missing the game.

With arguably it’s toughest stretch of conference play in the rearview mirror, the Minutemen head home with home games against Saint Joseph’s (Wednesday) and Fordham (Saturday) on tap.

“I didn’t know what the record was going to be. I thought it was a pretty tough stretch for us but I think we’re way better than we were at the start of the conference season,” Kellogg said.

“I think we look like a team that knows where we’re supposed to be on the basketball floor. We’re pressing less, we’re tightening some things up. The ball’s going inside a little bit more and we’re playing off of our bigs and we just have a better indication and feel of what the game is going to look like.”

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