UMass’ late resilience not enough in 73-67 loss to Rhode Island

Freshman Tre Mitchell scores 30 Tuesday

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Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

By Javier Melo, Assistant Sports Editor

KINGSTON, R.I. — Despite keeping the game close for much of the first half and some of the early second, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team fell 73-67 to Rhode Island on Tuesday.

In a game that featured wild shots that fell, weird lineups and freshman Tre Mitchell scoring almost half the team’s points, the Minutemen (9-14, 3-7 Atlantic 10) just couldn’t mount a full comeback.

“I was obviously very, very proud of our fight and the way we competed after we pretty much laid an egg down the road on Saturday,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “We got back really late Saturday night and put together a gutsy performance today that just wasn’t enough in the end and you got to give Rhode Island a tremendous amount of credit.

“We played it to a six-point game, and I said on the radio before the game, I think they’re a team that is right there with Dayton from a talent standpoint, from just how hard they play. I put them in the same category as them. We saw up close and person how good they were and we fought until the end here.”

The opening minutes of the game were rough for UMass. The Rams (16-5, 8-1 A-10) were able to get to the rim at will and the Minutemen missed good opportunities around the basket, allowing URI to go up 10-2 just three and a half minutes into the game.

From there, UMass started to pick up its sloppy play and rode the bench contributions of Sean East and Keon Clergeot, were able to cut the deficit to two points and keep it competitive for the rest of the first half.

The lineups were a bit funky for UMass throughout the game. For stretches of the first half, UMass opted to play a lineup that ran East, Clergeot, Carl Pierre, T. Mitchell and Djery Baptiste. The Minutemen also ran a small lineup that had East, Clergeot, Pierre, Kolton Mitchell and Baptiste.

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

The lineups were funky, yet effective. East, who has been relegated to a bench role as of late, played 36 minutes and was instrumental in how UMass was able to run its offense after some early turnovers and struggles getting the ball past midcourt. East didn’t finish with an eye-popping stat line, but he provided solid ball handling that allowed the Minutemen to get going offensively and only trail 35-30 at the half.

“I thought Sean responded and bounced back the right way,” McCall said. “It was a hard game for Kolton just because of the pressure and he’s out there dribbling with one hand – hopefully we can get that cast off of him, that would really, really help him. I thought Sean responded the right way and he made some good plays in there for us.”

In the second half, URI came out swinging. However, every time the Rams extended their lead beyond seven points, UMass responded with a quick bucket or two to cut the deficit right back. The Minutemen never led at any point in the game, but they kept it competitive throughout. T. Mitchell took control of the offense in the second half and carried it for long stretches to keep UMass’ hopes alive.

Eventually, URI junior Fatts Russell came alive and had a stretch where he seemed unguardable. The 5-foot-10 guard is averaging 20 points per game and finished with 21 against UMass. He didn’t have the greatest of shooting performances, going 6-of-15 from the field, but when the Rams needed him to come through, he did.

When the final buzzer sounded, UMass had lost by six points, T. Mitchell had 30 points and the Minutemen finished 4-of-19 from three. It was a gutsy performance by UMass on the road and included some encouraging signs.

“Again, with a young team you’ve got to still continue to learn,” McCall said. “If we come down the floor and something’s working, if we come down the floor and he just hit his last shot, we’ve got to come down and find him again.

“There was one time late in the game, we threw it ahead to Preston — that’s no knock, it was a good shot for Preston — Carl was wide open on the back side too. We’ve just got to continue to learn that, but you’ve got to take what the defense gives you. We scored 67 points and we had ourselves in a position to win, but we didn’t make enough plays down the stretch and really didn’t get enough stops down the stretch too, was the difference in the game too.”

Following a chippy evening, there was a brief scuffle at midcourt involving both teams, before they were separated and exited to their respective locker rooms.

“I have no idea [what happened],” McCall said. “I was in the locker room, I was the first one through the handshake line and took off down the floor.”

Javier can be reached by email at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @JMeloSports.