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UMass Basketball vs. URI: Minutemen Survive Nail-Biter, Win 65-61

The UMass Minutemen comeback from a 10 point deficit in the second half to move past the Rams as they advance to the A-10 Quarterfinals.

Maxie Esho led the way for the Minutemen with 15 points off the bench.
Maxie Esho led the way for the Minutemen with 15 points off the bench.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Who needs to make those pesky contested field goal attempts when you can get nice easy shots at the free-throw line? That was the UMass Minutemen's mind set during this game as they beat the Rhode Island Rams 65-61 on just 17-54 shooting from the field - to do the math for you that's 31.5 percent. Luckily they were able to get to the charity stripe at will, shooting a very impressive and a very necessary 28-for-36 there.

UMass advances to play the No. 3 George Washington Colonials at 9:00 p.m. at the Barclays Center Friday.

In times of crisis, sometimes the unlikely hero will emerge and that was exactly the role that Maxie Esho played on Thursday. Coming off the bench, Esho scored a team-high 15 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and had an impressive three steals as he provided the his typical spark. He played extended minutes tonight, filling in for Cady Lalanne who didn't play much of the game for what could have been match-up or performance-based reasons.

Rhode Island was in-control for almost the entire game keeping the pace at a much slower rate than UMass would have liked. They led almost the entire first half except for a brief UMass lead with 7:56 left in the first half when a Sampson Carter three gave the Minutemen a 20-19 advantage. URI would quickly retake the lead with a Xavier Munford trey.

Munford had a fantastic game finishing with a game-high 24 points, but it was his first half that almost gave the Rams the win right then and there. He had 18 first-half points and shot a perfect 6-for-6 from the field, including 3-for-3 from the arc, and only missed one of his four free-throws. He had back to back three-point jumpers early in the first half that were shot in a rhythm that only a pure shooter has.

Chaz Williams struggled in his Brooklyn homecoming, but did play great as usual when it mattered most. He finished with 11 points and only three assists but did have four steals and was all over the URI ball-handlers.

UMass got off to another slow start at the beginning of the first half. Nobody shot the ball well as the Minutemen were just 8-for-29 from the floor. Carter helped to keep UMass afloat scoring eight of his nine points in the first half.

Rhode Island struggled with foul trouble in the first half as they had five players with at least two fouls. This led to UMass getting 15 chances at the stripe and knocking down 12 of them. Big man Gilvydas Biruta (10 points and 8 boards) was in and out of the game due to foul trouble early in the game, picking up his second foul at the 16:08 mark. UMass still wasn't able to get anything going inside as Derek Kellogg opted to put Esho in the game replacing Cady Lalanne.

Rhode Island would go into the half with a comfortable 37-29 lead.

Lalanne didn't play very much this game as Kellogg went with Esho for much of the game, and that decision did pay off. With Biruta out the game a lot dealing with foul trouble there wasn't really a true center for Lalanne to guard. He did manage to snag seven rebounds in his limited minutes to go with six points. Raphiael Putney, Carter, and Esho were able to handle the inside fairly well in Lalanne's absence.

Munford cooled off in the second half but that didn't stop the Rams from building their lead to as high as 46-36 with 13:20 to go in the second half. That was until Esho turned on his usual hustle and out-fought the Rams inside, grabbing back-to-back offensive rebounds that resulted in thunderous slams, helping ignite a rather stagnate looking UMass squad.

With 10:18 left in the game and trailing 53-44, UMass began their 21-8 run which was started by two Maxie Esho free-throws. Derrick Gordon would finish a tough and-one that would extend the run and Esho's bench-mate Trey Davis (8 points) gave UMass its first lead of the second half with a defense-slicing layup on the baseline to make it 56-55 UMass.

Williams would put the game out of reach with two made free-throws followed by a big time step back 3-pointer that would give UMass a 61-56 lead with 1:53 left to play.

E.C. Matthews would foul out with 26 seconds left in the game. The A-10 Co-Rookie of the Year scored 10 points but struggled with turnovers as he had four. His teammate and fellow member of the All-Rookie team Hassan Martin had himself an impressive day defensively as he had 5 huge blocks in the game that helped URI control the paint with Biruta in and out of the lineup.