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 squeezes past Rhode Island in 81-79 victory

Minutemen nearly give away 14-point lead with 5:36 to go
Matt Skillings
Daily Collegian (2024)

After suffering a two-minute scoring drought and trying to end Rhode Island’s momentum, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s guard Rahsool Diggins received a pass from Jayden Ndjigue behind the arc and nailed a 3-pointer with 59 seconds left to give UMass (15-8, 6-5 Atlantic 10) a two-possession lead.

In a rivalry game against the Rams (11-13, 5-6 A-10), Diggins’ three put the team in position to take a much-needed 81-79 victory, one it almost gave away. The basket stopped the bleeding after Rhode Island hit tough shot after tough shot during an explosive scoring run, cutting a 14-point deficit with 5:36 left to three points in just two and a half minutes. The Rams even had a chance to win it at the buzzer, but Luis Kortright missed a three as time expired.

The Minutemen hold the sixth seed in the A-10 for the time being, but only one game separates fifth and ninth place.

“I wasn’t unhappy at halftime,” head coach Frank Martin said. “[The players] responded and played great the first 13-14 minutes of the second half and then we relaxed. We got casual and then they made some bombs and… now you’re in a dogfight. We got to embrace the good and bad today and make sure that we collectively grow from all these experiences we are going through.”

Diggins was the leading scorer for the Minutemen with 18 points and two assists. His clutch three was just one of six, as he went 6-of-11 from three, earning himself a new career high of 3-pointers made in a game.

The guard contributed to an afternoon of 3-point shooting for the Minutemen. They finished 11-of-28 from the arc, tying a season high in shots from beyond the arc which last happened in a win over Quinnipiac in the second game of the year.

“I thought we did a good job of loosening them up and executing… and getting [Diggins’] defender off his body,” Martin said, “and then give him credit, we executed, and he jumped up and made shots.”

The Rams finished with a higher 3-point percentage at 53 percent, and they bested UMass in free throw shooting as well. Rhode Island shot 13-for-16, but the Minutemen struggled immensely at the line, going 8-of-18, including a 1-of-6 performance from the line in the final 21 seconds. Free throw shooting has been a constant problem for the Minutemen throughout the season, something that almost cost them another game today.

The shooting disparities were more of a problem in the first half where there was a lack of offense for UMass, allowing the Rams to control most of the game’s first 20 minutes. However, freshman guard Jaylen Curry ignited a spark and made two threes to put the game within three going into the half. Curry went 4-of-8 and finished with 10 points, all of which were scored in the first frame.

The Minutemen built off Curry’s play, entering the second half with offensive momentum to take the lead after playing from behind for all of the first. Once UMass got the lead in the second, they maintained it for the rest of the game and held off an improbable Rhode Island comeback in the final minutes.

Sophomore Keon Thompson was part of the slow start to the game, only scoring two points in the first, but Thompson put on a show in the second, scoring 14 of his 16 total points. Shooting 7-for-10 and getting six rebounds and four assists, it was another strong performance for Thompson, who has scored in double digits for the fifth game in a row.

“That’s just hard work behind the scenes,” Thompson said, “not everybody sees all the hard work that you see on the floor, honestly [driving to the basket has] always been a strong point of my game for my entire life of playing basketball. I was always that person that could get to the basket whenever, it was just about timing and pacing and knowing when to go.”

The Rams held seniors Josh Cohen and Matt Cross to below-average games in scoring, but both still found ways to contribute on the court. Cohen netted 13 points, six rebounds and two assists and Cross ended with 10 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

For Rhode Island, Kortright scored 11 of the team’s final 12 points, including two high-difficulty threes in the final 25 seconds to keep the pressure on UMass. He finished with 15 points, five rebounds and four assists. Jaden House led the game in scoring with 22 points, and he started the Rams’ run at the 5:36 mark with 11 straight URI points himself.

Looking ahead, UMass will travel for a two-game road trip with the first stop being at Richmond to take on the first-place team in the A-10 on Wednesday, Feb. 14 at 7 p.m.

Samantha Sands can be reached at [email protected] and followed on X/Twitter @samantha_sands_.

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