Turnovers are a big reason why the University of Rhode Island Men’s Basketball team entered Wednesday night with a .500 record. The issue persisted in Amherst, with their 80-78 overtime loss against longtime rival the University of Massachusetts.
Rhody coughed up the ball 20 times, making it 98 turnovers in the last five games for the Rams. Head Coach David Cox described the statistic as the teams “achilles’ heel” and was the main reason why they couldn’t win on the road in a tight contest. The loss drops the Rams to 6-7 on the season and 3-3 in conference play.
Even with all the giveaways, redshirt junior Antwan Walker missed a layup that would have sent the game to double overtime for the Rams as time expired. Senior Fatts Russell evaded a triple team by passing to Walker streaking to the hoop, but UMass star-center Tre Mitchell did just enough to put the Rhody forward off balance on the attempt. To Coach Cox, it was a simple opportunity squandered.
“He just missed a layup,” he said when asked after the game to break down the final play.
URI came back from 15 points in the second half to make it a close game late, with good play from Russell and DJ Johnson. Johnson hit crucial three pointers, and Russell was setting up teammates for easy dunk attempts. Allen Betrand sent the game into overtime when a pump fake led to a wide-open three point attempt, with the shot finding nothing but net at 15 seconds left, tying the game at 72. UMass had two attempts to win the game in the final seconds of regulation, with both attempts rolling off the rim before their third attempt went in after the final horn sounded.
The Rams trailed the Minutemen by six at the half. A major reason the deficit wasn’t larger was thanks to the play of Makhel Mitchell. The transfer from Maryland had 12 points in the first half as part of his career-high and game-high 23 points. Makhel Mitchell, who played with two fouls throughout the first frame, showing a clear sign of maturity on the court, was able to draw a second first half foul on UMass’s Tre Mitchell, forcing the sophomore to the bench.
“I thought he played as well as he could on Tre,” said Coach Cox on Makhel Mitchell’s play. “Tre is a really, really good player, and I thought the times he really took advantage of Mahkel was when Mahkel got tired. But outside of that, I thought he did a good job all the way around today.”
The two rivals have played every season since 1950, with URI having won 8 of the previous 10 matchups before tonight’s loss. They memorably ended last year’s regular season with a tight win in Amherst, with the visitors escaping thanks to late free throws from Russell. That game was the last time either team played in front of a normal-sized crowd pre-pandemic.
For the Minutemen, Ronnie Degray III led the team in scoring with 21 points on 7-9 shooting. Tre Mitchell also had 16 points for the home team, who had six players with nine points or more. Russell finished with 12 points for the Rams, but shot 3-13 from the field.
Up next for the Rhody is a home tilt against George Mason. Media will be allowed into the Ryan Center for the first time all season, with tipoff scheduled for 2 p.m. on NBCSN.