KINGSTON, R.I. — Fortunately for University of Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg, his players have long memories.
That’s one reason the Minutemen were able to pull away down the stretch Saturday and beat Rhode Island, 75-66, in the teams’ regular-season finale.
Coming off an 11-point loss to Butler, UMass (19-10, 9-7 Atlantic 10) basically had to win to keep alive its chances of receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“This definitely would have been a bad loss,” Freddie Riley said. “It was a bad loss for us last year (URI beat UMass, 81-78- in overtime at the Ryan Center). We just didn’t want to repeat that.
“We’re glad that we won because last year we came down here and they beat us. We were trying to make sure we came out with some fire because, even though it was the last game of the season and they didn’t have anything to play for, we didn’t want them to try and ruin our season.”
Chaz Williams scored 15 of his 20 points after intermission. Riley added 18 points and Cady Lalanne contributed a game-high 15 rebounds.
Xavier Munford paced the Rams (8-21, 3-13), who completed their first season under coach Dan Hurley, with 21 points while Andre Malone added 19.
UMass led, 64-62, with 3:38 left when Terrell Vinson and Trey Davis each buried a 3-pointer.
Then, after Jordan Hare’s dunk, Williams closed out the game by converting 5 of 6 free throw attempts.
“He was locked in offensively and defensively,” Riley said of Williams. “He did a great job on Munford on the defensive end. And he also did a good job on the offensive end by making the right plays and knocking down free throws when we needed them the most.”
Kellogg echoed Riley’s comments about the point guard, who held Munford scoreless over the last five minutes.
“He’s a winner,” Kellogg said. “He’s a kid that wants to try to win the game. When he has the ball in his hands, he’s trying to create calls because he wants to go to the free throw line.
“I think he made a lot of big-time, tough plays today. It’s nice when it’s your point guard that’s one of your tougher players.”
Ironically, Williams was in position to incur Kellogg’s wrath when he was called for a technical foul with 2:47 left for barking at the officials. But UMass caught a break when Munford missed both free throws.
“It’s a bad one at that time of the game,” Kellogg said. “But in the same token, it was a defensive play and I thought he was playing good defense. The ref told me what he did.
“It’s one of those things where you want guys to compete and have a little edge. But you don’t want them to get a technical. I wasn’t really too mad about it today.”
URI led, 33-32, with 52 seconds left in the first half when Davis converted two foul shots.
On UMass’s next possession, Williams threw up a prayer from nearly 40 feet and it banked in for a buzzer-beating trey and a 37-33 lead.
Riley also accounted for another big 3-pointer, coming just before the midway point of the second half and putting UMass ahead for good at 49-48.
“It was big because the guy was on him a little bit,” Kellogg said. “Xavier was on him but he rose up and knocked it down. He’s playing with a lot of confidence.
“We need those buckets. We need those threes to go in for us to be effective.”
The Minutemen were 6 of 9 from beyond the arc in the second half and 11 of 20 for the game.
“I didn’t address it [the team’s NCAA Tournament chances] too much,” Kellogg said. “I addressed that we needed to rebound and defend a little better.
“I think the kids knew the importance with all the social media out there.”