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URI’s Season Ends with 3rd Loss to UMass, 65-61

Friday, March 14, 2014

 

In the end, the swan song for the 2013-14 URI Rams’ season was an all too familiar tune.

There was the halftime lead, the tantalizing scent of an upset in the air. There was a struggling rival with no business being within striking distance. There were turnovers. Free throws were missed. A young team made mistakes. An old team made big shots down the stretch. And Chaz Williams found a way to beat URI.

Williams finished with 11 points on just 3-12 shooting. URI did a good job defending him all night at the Barclay’s Center, the new home of the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament.

But Williams’ step-back 3 pointer with 1:27 to go put UMass up 61-56, capped a 15-2 run that changed the game, and added to his legacy as one of the clutch players in the A-10 Conference.

URI raced out to a 37-29 haltime lead behind an incredible first half performance from Xavier Munford. The senior guard shot 6-6 in the opening half and scored 18 points before the intermission.

URI shot 61% in the first half, compared to a 38% clip for UMass. The Minutemen somehow hung around thanks to advantages in rebounding and turnovers.

Munford cooled off a bit in the second half, and URI continued to play sloppy basketball with the turnovers. The Rams also fell into serious foul trouble, with5 of their 8 rotation players picking up 3 personal fouls before the 10 minute mark in the second half.

Still, UMass sagged behind. The rims weren’t kind to the Minutemen, as their shooting woes continued and they failed to capitalize on a great opportunity to slice into the deficit.

About halfway through the second half, the tide finally turned. Munford’s layup at the 9:50 mark gave URI a 55-46 lead, but UMass went on a 10-0 run and took the lead on a Trey Davis layup with 3:10 left to play.

Gilvydas Biruta halted the run with a free throw for the Rams, but Williams was able to get to the line on the other end and sank both attempts to put UMass on top 58-56 with 2:25 to go. Biruta missed 2 free throws on the ensuing possession, and Williams responded with his nifty step-back to put the Minutemen up 5 and take the wind out of URI’s sails.

Williams, Davis, and Sampson Carter would combine to make 4 free throws in the final minute, thwarting any hopes for a URI miracle and allowing the Minutemen to survive and advance to Friday’s Quarterfinal round of the tournament.

Munford finished with 24 points on 9-16 shooting, an admirable final game for the Rams’ lone senior. URI struggled to make shots in the second half, shooting just 33% and suffering through the critical UMass run late in the second half.

URI shot 48% (11-23) from the free throw line, compared to 78% for the Minutemen (28-36). URI also committed 17 turnovers compared to 12 for UMass, and the Minutemen won the rebounding battle 42-35.

UMass is a lock for the NCAA Tournament, and they’ll play George Washington on Friday. URI finishes 14-18 overall on the season, a respectable improvement from last season’s 8-23 team.

The rebuilding road is long and bumpy. URI’s season ended with a painful thud, a familiar feeling of disappointment, and an all too familiar sense that they let an older, more experienced team off the hook.

For Dan Hurley and URI, it’s on to next season. They know what they need to work on. The expectation is that they will continue to get better.

Let the offseason begin.
 

Notes

UMass held URI to 1 made field goal in the final 9:50, outscoring the Rams 19-6 along the way. The lesson here? No matter how bad you’re shooting the ball, stops on defense win close games.

UMass beat URI 3 times this season…by a combined 12 points. Call it the Chaz Williams factor. UMass specializes in winning close games because they’ve got a true closer in Williams. E.C. Matthews is the player who should grow into that role for URI in the coming years.
 

 

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