KINGSTON, R.I. - For those University of Massachusetts fans who might have forgotten the last 14 years, the long and winding road to Selection Sunday is often filled with potholes.
Such a jarring bump awaited the Minutemen at the Ryan Center last night, as UMass was ambushed in overtime by the University of Rhode Island, 81-78, to slip back below .500 away from Amherst.
The Rams spent the first two months of Atlantic 10 play at the bottom of the league standings, but have won two straight and damaged the postseason hopes of another potential contender. URI (5-18, 2-6), which snapped its six-game losing streak with an 86-81 shocker at Dayton Saturday, claimed its first home victory since the day after Thanksgiving, an 85-73 triumph over Hofstra.
“They’re coming together as a team,’’ said UMass coach Derek Kellogg. “Their chemistry is much better and they played with some toughness and some passion today.’’
Rumblings of a first NCAA Tournament bid since 1998 began to surface as UMass (16-6, 5-3) edged into the top 60 of the RPI, but the road record of a team that starts three sophomores and a lone senior is the primary stumbling block - the Minutemen are just 5-6 away from the Mullins Center.
“I think those guys are trying to take the next step,’’ Kellogg said. “I thought we fought in the second half and in overtime, but we didn’t make enough basketball plays to come away with a win.’’
The Rams never trailed in the overtime period, using a floater in the lane by Nikola Malesevic (19 points) and a jumper from the right elbow by Orion Outerbridge to build a quick margin. URI did the rest of its scoring from the foul line, going 8 for 10 in the extra session.
Outerbridge, a Boston native, was the primary thorn in the Minutemen’s collective side, as the 6-foot-9-inch senior forward set a career high with 29 points on 11-for-17 shooting. His final field goal of regulation drew URI even at 69-69 and set up the extra session.
“Outerbridge had a career type of game,’’ Kellogg said.
UMass failed to get a clean look on its last possession of regulation despite burning a pair of timeouts over the final 29.7 seconds. The Minutemen couldn’t penetrate against URI’s 2-3 zone look and Jesse Morgan’s 3-pointer from the right wing at the buzzer didn’t draw iron.
“There were a couple different options off that, that being one of them,’’ Kellogg said. “I thought we got a pretty good look there.’’
Seven of the last 13 games between the teams have been decided by 3 points or fewer, making last night’s nail-biter a common sight for those who have followed the 137 meetings between the longtime New England rivals.
Outerbridge poured in 12 of URI’s first 16 points to keep the Rams within striking distance while UMass forward Raphiael Putney dominated after halftime to fuel the Minutemen’s comeback. Putney piled up 7 of his 8 rebounds, 5 of his 6 steals, all 3 of his blocked shots, and had 10 of his team-high 18 points in the final 25 minutes.
Georgetown 58, UConn 44 - Hollis Thompson regained his shooting touch with 18 points, and the No. 14 Hoyas held the visiting Huskies to season lows in scoring and shooting for UConn’s fourth straight loss.
Baylor 63, Texas A&M 60 - Pierre Jackson hit a 3-pointer with 17 seconds remaining to put the No. 6 Bears (20-2, 7-2 Big 12) on top en route to their victory over the host Aggies (12-9, 3-6).
Kansas 84, Oklahoma 62 - Thomas Robinson had 20 points and 17 rebounds, leading the No. 8 host Jayhawks (18-4, 8-1 Big 12) over the Sooners (13-8, 3-6).
San Diego St. 58, Boise St. 56 - Jamaal Franklin had 16 points and Chase Tapley added 14 for host No. 17 San Diego State, which rallied from a 12-point deficit early in the second half and held on.
Michigan 68, Indiana 56 - Trey Burke scored 18 points and the No. 23 Wolverines raced to a 20-point first-half lead before holding on for a victory over the No. 20 Hoosiers in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Drexel 61, Northeastern 53 - Damion Lee scored a career-high 25 points and the visiting Dragons (18-5, 10-2 Colonial Athletic Association) held off the Huskies (11-11, 7-5) for their 10th straight victory.
Vermont 68, BU 67 - Luke Apfeld scored 16 points and the visiting Catamounts (14-10, 8-2), held off the Terriers’ rally to take sole possession of second place in the America East Conference. Darryl Partin scored 19 points and D.J. Irving added 15 for the Terriers (11-13, 7-3), who had their 15-game home conference winning streak snapped.
MIT 85, Wheaton 56 - Noel Hollingsworth scored 19 points and Will Tashman (17 points, 11 rebounds) and Mitchell Kates (17 points) lifted the Engineers over the Lyons in Norton for their 19th victory against one loss.
Baylor 71, Missouri 41 - Brittney Griner scored 18 points to help the No. 1 Lady Bears (22-0, 9-0) roll.
BU 72, Vermont 64 - Chantell Alford scored a season-high 28 points and the Terriers rallied from a 5-point halftime deficit to claim their ninth straight victory, remaining unbeaten at home.