URI beat UMass 73-67 at the Ryan Center Tuesday night.
How it happened: URI blitzed the Minutemen in the early going with a 10-2 run but had to work for everything else in the rest of the first half. A field goal drought of 5:44 allowed UMass to stay in the game. The Minutemen used a 2-3 zone defense to give the Rams some trouble and got big production inside from Tre Mitchell. URI led by five at the half. There was more back-and-forth early in the second before six straight points by Fatts Russell and an alley-oop dunk by Jacob Toppin pushed the lead to 11. One more short spurt gave the Rams enough control to finish it off, as Russell scored five points and Jermaine Harris converted a putback for a 7-0 run that made it 69-54. UMass got within six in the final minute, but URI held on.
What it means: At this point in the season, a win against a struggling team is mostly about getting the win, and URI did that. Firmly in most NCAA Tournament projections, the Rams can’t afford a slip-up in a game like this. That said, they weren’t perfect in this one and if one game builds to another, this is the first time in a while they didn’t take a step in the right direction. There will be some things to work on going forward. But they’ve now won nine in a row, no small feat.
Enough: As it often does, URI did enough down the stretch to hang on, particularly after UMass had made it an eight-point game with 5:02 remaining. Russell hit a 3-pointer out of a timeout that provided the spark. There was some maturity on display from the Rams in that kind of situation; certainly no signs of panic.
Issues: URI forced only 12 turnovers, a few below its average, and had major difficulty defending UMass’ Tre Mitchell in the post. Mitchell is a big-time talent who’s just a freshman and will wreak havoc in the league for years to come, but still, URI probably needed a better answer against him. At the other end, URI’s 11 assists were the lowest in the last five games, and there were some shaky moments against the UMass zone, though those faded as the game went on. The Rams also were just plus-one in rebounding against a team that’s last in the A-10 in rebounding margin.
Guarding the line: One bright spot in the URI defense was at the 3-point line. An upset-minded team could have made things even more interesting with a few shots from deep, but the Minutemen were just 4-of-19 from beyond the arc. They typically shoot 34 percent from 3, which ranks fifth in the conference.
Another 20: Fatts Russell has gotten to the point where he can quietly have a big game. He led the Rams with 21 for his 14th 20-point game of the season. He also nabbed four steals, which puts him at 68 for the year, one behind Stanford Robinson for second place on the all-time single season list.
Milestone: Langevine reached 1,000 career points on a free throw with 8:36 left in the first half. He is the 57th player in program history to join the club and the third member of this team to do it. Jeff Dowtin hit the mark last year and Fatts Russell reached it last month. Langevine is approaching 900 career rebounds. If he gets to 1,000 there, he would become just the third player in school history with 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. The milestone came along with one of Langevine’s best performances of A-10 play, as he finished with 15 points and nine rebounds.
Chipping in: Jeff Dowtin was also in double figures with 16 points and Tyrese Martin scored eight. Jermaine Harris was active early and had seven points and five rebounds. The bench was quiet again, totaling only six points.
Postgame: A scuffle broke out after the handshake line, with the teams converging at midcourt, exchanging words and having to be separated. UMass coach Matt McCall was already on his way to the locker room and said he didn’t know what happened. URI coach David Cox said it was, “Just a little dustup. Rivalry stuff. That’s all. Nothing.”
Quotable: “It’s a conference win. We’ll take that. Obviously, it wasn’t the prettiest of wins, so we’ve got a lot of work to do.” - Cox
Next: URI heads to George Washington on Saturday, last stop before next Tuesday’s showdown at Dayton.