AMHERST, Mass. — Identifying a trap game doesn’t necessarily make it that much easier to avoid stepping right into a pitfall. David Cox and his coaching staff forewarned their charges all week that UMass would be playing with desperation, after an 0-6 start to Atlantic 10 play.
To no avail. The Minutemen scored in the 70s for the first time in A-10 play this year, and earned a 77-70 win on the backs of a season-high 22 points from Carl Pierre.
“A very crushing and disappointing loss for the Rhode Island Rams,” coach David Cox said. “All we talked about the last three days was how hungry this team would be and how we had to be prepared to play a war. We didn’t come out and respond well at at all.”
Pierre shot the Rams to death, standing motionless in the corner and draining 6 of 9 3-point attempts. Normal pest Luwane Pipkins didn’t connect on a field goal until the second half, and was limited to 2 of 14 from the field.
“Pierre shot the cover off the ball,” Cox said. “We held Pipkins to 0-of-8 in the first half. Tenacious offensive player, I thought we did an outstanding job on him. They had one other double-figure scorer. Pierre killed us.”
A 12-4 start for the Rams gave way to a 17-0 UMass run. Cyril Langevine had five turnovers in the first half alone, and the Rams did themselves no favors by handing the ball over to the Minutemen 17 times in total.
“We shot the ball at a 51 percent clip today,” Cox said. “Offensively, that was fine. The amount of turnovers [was the issue].”
Langevine finished with seven of the 17 turnovers — matching his season-high. The starters accounted for all of the offensive miscues, and covered up an otherwise efficient offensive effort.
Tyrese Martin posted career highs in points (23) and 3-pointers (five) in the loss. The freshman was 8 of 11 on field goals, showing tremendous confidence in his shot. After a made 3-pointer in the second half, he looked toward the URI bench, as if to say, ‘let’s go’.
Christion Thompson played 30 minutes off the bench and had a clean assist-to-turnover ratio of 3:0. His 12 points were the most he’s scored in a game since URI beat Charlotte in late December.
“They came into the game with a tremendous amount of confidence,” Cox said of the pair. “Tyrese stepped into his shots, Christion played extremely hard. He started playing really hard on the defensive end and that usually gets him going.”
Thompson had two steals on that end of the court, but the team defensive effort was poor, particularly in the second half. The Minutemen shot 63 percent from the floor in that period and hit their last 5 of 8 3-point attempts.
“Our defense — which has been rock solid — failed us royally today,” Cox said. “That’s disheartening and a little bit disturbing. We have to get back to who we are.”
It isn’t the first time that Cox has publicly called for his team to focus on a return to form. He pointed out postgame that the team has struggled following wins — the team is now 3-8 following victories.
“We talked about handling prosperity the last few weeks, because we had struggled with winning games after getting a win,” he said. “We were able to put two wins together, talked about handling prosperity again and put three together.”
Then, came the dreadful trip to Amherst. Rhody was scoreless for an eight-minute span of the first half, allowing UMass to score 17 uncontested points. Just as they did against VCU, the Rams struggled offensively in the first half before launching into a high-scoring final 20 minutes.
The difference on Sunday afternoon was that they didn’t defend anywhere near at the level they did against VCU. Despite scoring 45 points in the second half, the Rams did not hit consecutive field goals without giving up one in turn down the other end.
“Started basically from the opening tip,” Cox said. “There was a loose ball situation, they dove to the floor and got it. That set the tone for the rest of the game.”
“We have to lock in,” Langevine, who spent most of the press conference with his head held low, said. “They came out tougher than us today. We have to continue to get better, stay in the gym. Stay focused on the game plan.”
The good news for the Rams is that they are 7-0 following defeats. Two big games are on the slate this week, at Duquesne (14-6, 5-2) on Wednesday, and at home against St. Louis on Saturday (14-6, 5-2) at 4 p.m.