Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass snaps losing streak with 24-point route of Rhode Island

Minutemen hold the Rams to 19 points in second half
Kayla Wong / Daily Collegian (2023)

KINGSTON — Survive and advance.
The age-old NCAA Tournament adage, coined by Jim Valvano in 1983, can really apply at any point of a college basketball season, especially for non-power schools who need to win quite a bit of games to make a run late into March.

Earlier in the week, Isaac Kante mentioned that the Massachusetts men’s basketball team had entered “survival mode.” After a 9-3 non-conference record, things took a turn for the worse with UMass heading into Rhode Island on a five-game losing streak .

With their backs against the wall, the Minutemen sit near the bottom of the Atlantic 10 standings and don’t have much to lose.

The survivor’s mindset showed itself Saturday afternoon when UMass (14-13, 5-10 Atlantic 10) defeated Rhode Island 69-45 in one of its strongest performances of the season. With the Rams (8-18, 4-10 A-10) heading into the contest on a four-game losing streak themselves, something had to give.

“I’m proud of our guys, man,” Minutemen coach Frank Martin said postgame. “Losing sucks.”

“Guys have been asking for guidance as to how they can help us and play. They had their numbers called today and they — all every one of them — helped us win today with attention to detail and competitiveness and I’m really proud of the guys.”

The Minutemen’s size, which was flaunted coming into the season, was a clear issue for the Rams all day. While three frontcourt players were sidelined with injuries, the core of the UMass interior —  Wildens Leveque and Isaac Kante — remained intact. That duo saw plenty of action under the basket on both sides of the floor Saturday, and they utilized it by combining for 13 points, 11 rebounds, and four blocks. Martin’s group scored 40 points in the paint to URI’s 22.

The strongest performances of the day belonged to the Minutemen freshmen. Keon Thompson, RJ Luis, and Tafara Gapare were the only three UMass players who scored in double figures, and each member of the 2022 Minutemen recruiting class made themselves known in different ways.

Thompson continued his crusade as starting point guard, leading the team with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting, six rebounds and five assists.

Whether it was a strong performance from a Frank Martin defense, another bad night for a Rhode Island team that ranks as one of the worst shooting teams in the country, or a mixture of both, nothing was working for the Rams offensively. After making six of its first nine shots, Rhode Island went 10-of-56 from the floor the rest of the way, including multiple scoring droughts that lasted over five minutes. The Rams shot 25 percent from the field scored 19 second-half points.

“The zone was really good, really active, guys’ attention to detail in the zone was really good,” Martin said. “They depend on Leggett driving the ball, they depend on [Jalen Carey] driving the ball. The zone kind of eliminated the dribble drives and they made them more of a jump shooting team. And then our rotations in the zone, our communications were really good.”

URI coach Archie Miller dismissed guard Brayon Freeman and his 14.3 points per game from the team earlier in the week. Rhody fans hoped that Freeman’s production could get replaced with stronger performances from guards Jalen Carey and Malik Martin. Saturday didn’t reaffirm this belief, as Carey and Martin combined for 4-of-20 from the field. Sophomore Ishmael Leggett led the Rams with 18 points and was the team’s only real threat all game.

This 24-point win marks both UMass’ first conference road win of the season, and the school’s largest conference road win since Jan. 30, 2001, when they also beat Rhode Island by 32.

The Minutemen host Dayton on Wednesday at 7 p.m., where their rekindled defense faces one of its toughest tasks of the season.

Dean Wendel can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @DeanWende1.

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