JERREY ROBERTS Sampson Carter, left, of the University of Massachusetts, drives to the basket against Hassan Martin, of URI, Wednesday at the Mullins Center. Gilvydas Biruta looks on.
AMHERST — The plot of the sequel wasn’t much different than the original.
Despite being out of sync at both ends, the University of Massachusetts men’s basketball team wiped out a late deficit to beat Rhode Island, 70-67 at the Mullins Center, Wednesday. It was a script and a result not all that different from the Minutemen’s 73-68 win over the Rams in Kingston, R.I., 17 days ago.
“I’m happy we won tonight,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “It was a game we needed as a team and a program. I thought we came out a little flat, but picked it up at the tail end of the first half. It was nip and tuck the whole second half and our guys showed some character at the end.”
UMass (22-5, 9-4 Atlantic 10) has trailed in the final five minutes of seven of their nine conference wins.
“It was nice to win,” Kellogg said. “I think we needed it for the win column. Right now every game is important. Every game is a big game.”
Derrick Gordon (nine points, 10 rebounds, four assists), who has a résumé full of big baskets late for the Minutemen, added another. After T.J. Buchanan made two free throws to tie the game at 64-64, Gordon slashed through traffic and hit a layup at the right side of the rim to put UMass up 66-64 with 1 minute, 36 seconds left.
“He’s back to making just about every close shot or layup that he takes,” Kellogg said. “He’s made some big layups for us and some mid-range shots.”
URI’s E.C. Matthews (14 points) drew Cady Lalanne’s third foul at the other end, but only made one of two free throws with 1:07 left.
Lalanne’s fourth foul came moments later on an illegal screen, but URI center Gilvydas Biruta traveled with 43 seconds left giving UMass the ball back.
Chaz Williams was then fouled by Matthews going to the basket, and the senior point guard calmly made both to stretch the Minutemen’s lead to 68-65 with 24 seconds left.
With that much time left, UMass chose not to foul to avoid a 3-pointer and instead the Minuteman guards did a good job of preventing any open looks from outside, forcing Xavier Munford (16 points) to drive inside.
Sampson Carter got his hand on the ball as it went up, deflecting it toward Lalanne, who tapped it to Trey Davis with three seconds left.
“I thought it was a foul,” URI coach Danny Hurley said. “But this was a tough game, a physical game. ... You panic a little bit at the end of game. This group has not been in these situations at the end of games together. We don’t have that cohesion and comfortableness. ... We played a little too fast at very critical times.”
Davis, who finished with 13 points and five rebounds, was fouled quickly and made both free throws to seal the win.
Williams led UMass with 16 points and six assists. Carter added 11 points and six rebounds. Biruta led URI with 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
The Minutemen prevailed despite missing 11 layups as part of an 11-for-38 shooting performance in the first half. They had as many makes in half the attempts (11 for 19) after intermission. UMass outrebounded URI, 41-28.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Hurley said. “It was a battle of two programs at different stages. They’re at this stage with what Derek has been building and we’re kind of just getting started with what we’re doing with a bunch of young guys.”
UMass heads to the road to face Dayton, Saturday at 11 a.m.
“We have three regular season games left,” Kellogg said. “We’re going to have to pick up the pieces and get ready to go down there.”