Makhel Mitchell poured in 22 points but URI at UMass fell in final seconds
By KEVIN McNAMARA
An epic comeback ended in a frustrating defeat Wednesday night for the Rhode Island Rams.
After shaking out of a 15-point hole over the final 10 minutes of regulation, Rhody forced overtime. The Rams kept piling up critical plays deep into the extra session but Antwan Walker missed a point-blank layup at the buzzer that allowed UMass to escape with a thrilling 80-78 victory.
“Tough loss, hard-fought loss,” said coach David Cox. “We showed some fight, some toughness, some resiliency.”
Yet that wasn’t enough, as the Rams ended the game with a critical Jeremy Sheppard turnover and the missed layup on their final two possessions. Rhody fell to 7-7 overall and 3-4 in the Atlantic 10.
Makhel Mitchell led the Rams with his best game yet, a 23-point, six rebound effort. Allen Betrand (11 points) was the clutch player late, while UMass did an excellent job keeping Fatts Russell (12 points, 3-of-13 FG) in check. Rhody’s season-long turnover woes continued with 20 miscues, and as Cox admitted “we’re having difficulty just passing the ball in general.”
Freshman Ronnie DeGray led UMass (5-3, 4-1) with 21 points. Tre Mitchell (16 points) and Carl Pierre (15) also came through nicely.
With a little over nine minutes remaining at the Mullins Center, URI appeared dead and buried. The Minutemen were hitting shots, playing with bounce and flashing a zone defense that stymied Rhode Island. The home team appeared in control with a comfortable 62-47 lead.
Then Rhody finally arrived.
Led by some aggressive inside play by Makhel Mitchell and a pesky zone defense that shut down the Minutemen, the Rams turned on the jets and put together an 11-0 run that changed the game. In a few minutes the Rams had sliced the deficit to 62-58 and UMass big man Trey Mitchell was glued to the bench with four fouls.
Down just 66-64, Rhody took a step back and UMass went up 70-64 with 1:48 left but the Rams made another push. A D.J. Johnson 3-pointer made it 70-67 and then Betrand rebounded a missed free throw and scored to make it 70-69 with 70 seconds left.
UMass ran good offense and DeGray scored inside but Betrand answered, this time with a clutch 3-pointer to tie the game at 72-72 with 14.5 seconds left.
UMass took a timeout with nine seconds on the clock and went for the win with Noah Fernandes missing a 3-pointer. Tre Mitchell tipped up the rebound but it would not fall at the buzzer.
So after outscoring UMass 25-10 to close the half, the Rams went cold at the start of overtime. Makhel Mitchell missed a free throw with 2:43 on the clock but his fortunate tip-in two plays later gave URI the first points of overtime with two minutes left.
DeGray drained a clutch 3-pointer for UMass’ first hoop of the O.T. but Russell tied it at 75 after making one of two free throws. Tre Mitchell gave UMass the lead again with a post move with 1:11 left but Rhody answered with D.J. Johnson nailing his third 3-pointer with 42 seconds left for a 78-77 lead.
Tre Mitchell went to the line with 25 seconds left and made two for a 79-78 lead but that gave Rhody a final chance after a timeout with 20 seconds on the clock but Sheppard bobbled the ball on a drive and lost the ball.
Pierre made just one of two to keep the door open for the Rams. Russell burst up the right sideline, looked to get off a shot but slid a nice pass to an open Walker but he missed a layup at the buzzer.