Ronnie DeGray III headlines UMass win over Rhode Island with career-high 21 points

DeGray III shot 7-of-9 from the field

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Thom Kendall/UMass Athletics

By Frederick Hanna III, Assistant Sports Editor

Ronnie DeGray III made his presence felt in the win for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team as they narrowly edged out fellow New England rivals Rhode Island 80-78 in overtime.

UMass (4-3, 3-1 Atlantic 10) pulled off a close win thanks in part to a dominant and breakout performance by freshman DeGray III. In his first year with the Minutemen, he has been a critical part in helping UMass win, working side by side with Tre Mitchell.

“[Ronnie] hits that huge three which we needed that,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “He knows the right play to make. We talked about him yesterday, he is a guy that we haven’t had in my years here in terms of at that position being able to run offense through him. He makes the right play, he is versatile defensively. He is terrific and really, really glad that he is only a freshman.”

DeGray has been the glue guy for UMass so far at the start of conference play. In his last three games he is averaging 39 minutes. Granted, two of those games have finished in either overtime or double overtime, but he is proving to McCall why he is such an important player for UMass.

A steady shooter from the field and even from deep, DeGray III put up 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field against Rhode Island (6-7, 3-3 A-10) which was a career high. He certainly filled up the stat sheet finishing 6-of-8 from the free throw line, six rebounds, three assists and a 3-pointer made.

DeGray III’s lone 3-pointer came in the last moments of the game. With UMass down by two and the clocking ticking down, DeGray III sunk home a corner three with just under two minutes remaining. It kept UMass afloat and within reach of finishing out the game, considering they had just blown a 12-point lead midway through the second half.

“I didn’t think [the 3-pointer] was a bad shot,” DeGray III said. “I felt I was wide open, and it went in, nothing much.”

The Rams didn’t go away without fighting. DeGray III was up to the challenge though, sinking home a crucial layup in the final minute of regulation. Javohn Garcia dished out the ball to a cutting DeGray who put UMass up by three at the time before a cold-blooded three made by URI’s Allen Betrand forced OT.

DeGray III continues to be a steady force for UMass and it goes to show how much confidence McCall has in his big man. His ability to knock down the occasional three keeps him as a threat from beyond the arc while his physicality doesn’t go unnoticed down low in the post.

“It means a lot [having trust from McCall] but I feel like it is nothing new just from playing prep ball, playing AAU with my dad. He always trusted me to make the right decision, especially the guys on the team. They trust me to make the right decision. I go out and play my game and not think about it too much,” DeGray III said.

There really hasn’t been a bad shooting night for DeGray III so far this season. The freshman hasn’t gone a game missing more than two shots, proving his reliability in shot selection. Along with shooting 70.3 percent in field goal percentage, he has gone 5-of-9 from three, with one of those threes coming in clutch against URI. He has slowly racked up rebounds both on the offensive and defensive end, proving why he is such a physical force down low in the paint. The Minutemen have fared well so far in the start to conference play and a lot of that can be attributed to the consistent play of DeGray.

UMass next takes on Fordham in the Bronx with tipoff scheduled for 2:30 p.m on Sunday Jan. 17.

Frederick Hanna can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @FrederickHIII