The digital-first, student-run magazine of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Journalism Department

Amherst Wire

The digital-first, student-run magazine of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Journalism Department

Amherst Wire

The digital-first, student-run magazine of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Journalism Department

Amherst Wire

UMass Men’s Basketball hangs on 81-79 against Rhode Island

A back and forth basketball game kept fans guessing who would win until the final buzzer
Kalina Kornacki

The Rhode Island Rams won the first matchup of the season 89-77 in Kingston, but the Minutemen were without forward Matt Cross. On Saturday, UMass had the services of Cross, but the star players of the game were guards Rashool Diggins and Keon Thompson. Combined they shot 13 of 23 from the field and scored 34 points. UMass struggled from the free throw line only shooting 8 of 18 which nearly cost them down the stretch.

URI expected to receive a boost from leading scorer David Green who returned to the lineup after an illness had kept him out. However, the UMass defense limited his shot selection all day and he only finished with 11 points. 

Tensions were high between both squads during the first half with words expressed between both sides following tough fouls. However, after double technical fouls were assessed against UMass forward Daniel Hankins-Sanford and URI guard Jaden House, both sides calmed down. 

UMass started the game slowly and was facing a nine-point deficit with just over seven minutes to play in the first half. URI hit three quick long balls in the first half which added to their lead, but Diggins hit two clutch threes of his own to keep UMass close. Diggins had the best three-point shooting game of the season hitting 6 of 11 from deep. His 18 points also serve as his second-highest total on the season. 

However, towards the end of the half Diggins was only 2 of 5 from deep and the team overall was 2 of 12. With under three minutes to go guard Jaylen Curry found his shooting touch and hit threes on back-to-back possessions to make it a two-point game. 

UMass was unable to take the lead before the break and went into the half down 35-32 primarily due to a poor four of eight performance from the free throw line and a few ill timed turnovers. To get a second-half lead, UMass needed to take care of the ball and hit their free throws. 

Thompson was able to get the Minutemen their first lead since early in the first half following a layup, but URI did not slow down their offensive attack. Baskets in the paint from forward David Fuchs kept Rhode Island competitive. 

Both teams were evenly matched throughout the game but UMass excelled in the hustle game. The Minutemen gathered five more offensive rebounds than the Rams. UMass won the total rebounding battle 39-31 overall. Cross led the team with seven while Thompson and forward Josh Cohen each added six. 

UMass had slowly gathered the lead, and with nearly eight minutes to go a scrum for the ball led to a three point basket for UMass forward Robert Davis Jr. which gave UMass a seven point lead, their largest of the game at that point. 

A few minutes later, Cross hit a driving Thompson down the baseline for a layup that put UMass up by 14 and the game firmly in their hands.

“[Thompson] single handedly with offensive rebounds, cuts to the rim, transition baskets, ball screen defense single handedly allowed us to build that lead,” said head coach Frank Martin. 

However, the game was far from over at this point as URI went on an 11-0 run due to back to back three point shots from House. Guard Luis Kortright added two layups of his own. UMass punched back again with a Diggins three pointer and two Thompson free throws for a seven point lead. Kortright proceeded to score seven points on the next three URI possessions bringing the score to 81-79.

At this point, the Rams needed to foul UMass to have a chance to win. The Minutemen were struggling having missed three of their last four from the line at that point. Curry went to the line to shoot two for UMass but missed both. Kortright got the ball and shot a three to give URI the win but the shot bounced off the rim and UMass held on. 

Now, UMass sits sixth in the A10 with a 6-5 conference record and a 15-7 overall record. Their 15 wins match last year’s total with seven games left to go in the season. UMass faces one of their toughest tests of the season on Valentine’s Day against Richmond on the road. 

Spiders Up Next

The Richmond Spiders boast a 17-6 record on the season and have a 9-1 record in conference play. Richmond does not have an elite offense and is only averaging 72.8 points per game, 12th in the A10. However, their defense is stifling allowing only 65 points per game which is 2nd in the conference. In particular, their three point defense is stifling, allowing just 29.9% of long balls to go in. 

While their offense is not elite, Richmond does have an elite shooter in guard Jordan King. With 18.8 points per game, King is 2nd in the A10. He is also one of the best when it comes to shooting from long range. In 23 games this season he has nailed 43.6% of his threes. 

UMass will also need to look out for guard Dji Bailey. He only averages 10 points per game, but he is shooting 61.3% from the field. His biggest impact may be on defense where he has 1.8 steals per game, tied for third in the A10 with Cross. 

One area of the game where UMass could excel is in rebounding. UMass gets the second most rebounds per game in the conference while Richmond sits last. UMass on average is also gathering eight more offensive rebounds per game than Richmond. 

UMass has struggled on the road this season with only a 1-5 record. It is also crucial to avoid a slow start and poor free throw shooting because the Spiders will not let UMass get back into the game. If Curry and Diggins have another strong day from deep and the Minutemen crash the offensive boards then victory will be possible.

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