The old phrase, "free throws win games," held true for the UMass Minutemen as they pulled out the win over Rhode Island 70-67. They shot 21-31 from the line and were 4-4 in the last minute to close out the game.
Chaz Williams continued his shooting struggles going just 5-13 from the floor, but still netted 16 points and added 6 assists. His back-court sidekick Derrick Gordon scored 9 points and grabbed a team high 10 boards while making numerous crowd pleasing plays.
Trey Davis came off the bench and contributed 13 points playing a lot of his minutes in a three guard lineup along with Gordon and Williams.
UMass improved to an overall record of 22-5 and a conference record of 9-4. Rhode Island fell to 12-17 and 3-11 in conference play.
UMass started off painfully slow offensively taking almost a full three minutes to score their first points. Rhode Island extended their lead to as much as 13 with eight minutes left in the first half.
Xavier Munford led URI in the first half and ended up with 16 points in the game. Forward Gilvydas Biruta finished with a game high 17 points and hauled down 8 rebounds. Biruta had a thunderous dunk in the second half that quieted a deafening UMass crowd.
UMass went on a 23-9 to end the first half and give them a 31-30 lead. The run was started with a physical layup by Gordon and was kept going by a pair of Sampson Carter 3-pointers (11 points).
UMass kept their lead for a majority of the second half. Gordon's flashy alley-oop pass to Raphiael Putney helped to set that tone.
Neither team shot very well from the arc as UMass shot 35% and Rhode Island managed just 31%. URI was able to shoot 50% from the field and the Minutemen finished just under 40%.
URI was able to tie the game at the seven minute mark on a Munford layup. Their lead would only get to four as the Minutemen quickly got to the free throw line.
Rhode Island struggled with foul trouble through most of the game with all five starters had at least three fouls and had three players with four fouls.
Cady Lalanne was able to get the better of Biruta down the stretch. Earlier in the game it was all Biruta who was able to score in the paint at will. However Lalanne (9 points 5 rebounds) had a key defensive stop that forced Biruta into a travel.
The UMass full court press was effective as they were able to force 11 turnovers and had seven steals. When URI was able to break the press they were forced into quick shots that aided UMass in their fast paced style of play.
Things then got heated on the other end of the floor as Biruta immediately picked up an off ball foul on Lalanne. Munford and Lalanne then got into a verbal back and forth that ended up in a double technical. Lalanne made both of his free throws that would give UMass a 64-62 lead.
URI's T.J. Buchanan got fouled on a strong drive to the hoop and converted his two free throws. Gordon answered back as he muscled his way through a throb of defenders for a layup assisted by Williams.
Lalanne swatted a lazy floater in the lane that started a "Who's your Cady!" chant from the student section.
UMass would hold on to their lead as Williams and Davis each made two free throws to seal the game.
The Minutemen go on the road this Saturday as they visit the Dayton Flyers (19-9, 7-6). UMass will look to extend their win streak to four against Dayton. Rhode Island was considered to be a hangover game after UMass' dramatic late game win against VCU. UMass has one more game after Dayton against conference bottom feeder Duquesne before taking on conference leader St. Louis against an already sold out crowd at the Mullins Center.